Employers should ensure occupational drivers are fully sight tested

Regulations force employers to provide eye tests for VDU users but there are still woeful shortcomings in checking the sight of occupational drivers, says Amanda Wilkinson

Employers may think they have all their legal obligations covered when it comes to optical care by providing eye tests to staff who habitually use VDUs at work or equipping workers with safety glasses and goggles. But it seems that many fail to monitor closely the state of vision of staff undertaking work-related driving.

Some 90% of employees who drive for a living say their bosses do not insist they have their eyes tested, according to research commissioned last year by Specsavers. As a consequence, more than half (55%) of these had not had an eye test in the past year, while 17% had not been tested for over five years.

While the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 stipulate that staff who habitually use display screens can ask their employer to provide and pay for an eye sight test and, where needed, glasses for VDU use, there are no similar provisions for occupational drivers. Those in jobs where there is a risk to their health and safety are also protected by the Personal Protection Equipment at Work Regulations 1992, which specify employers must provide them with personal protective equipment, including eye protection.

As there is no specific legislation covering drivers, employers have to look at their obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 which stipulates they are obliged to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of all staff while at work and that others are not put at risk by employees’ work-related driving activities. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 also state bosses have a responsibility to manage health and safety effectively, which means carrying out an assessment of the risks to staff while they are at work, and to others who may be affected by work activities.

Health and Safety Executive guidance Driving at work also prompts employers to remind staff they must be able to satisfy the Highway Code’s eyesight requirements, which means being able to read a number plate at a distance of 20 metres.

Andrew Adams, corporate manager at Specsavers, believes company car drivers’ vision is often overlooked. “VDU legislation exists, yet the main danger is [perhaps] somebody like an occupational driver.” A driving policy stipulating that staff who drive on business should have regular eyesight checks may help. Yet some employers are going one step further in order to cover themselves. Kate Brooks, eyecare vouchers sales manager at Accor Services, says: “We sold some vouchers to an organisation that [was] concerned their drivers were not taking [the] risk [associated with not having regular eyesight tests] seriously enough and one way of handling it was to say to them ‘OK we will pay’.”

If employers do pay for eye tests, they should ensure the test is for the correct purpose, whether for VDU usage and/or driving, as an individual’s prescription can vary depending on the use.

Employers can also take steps to cut down on the admin involved in dealing with individuals’ invoices from their chosen optician by giving staff vouchers or purchasing cover under a healthcare cash plan. But prices and conditions vary. For example, Specsavers offers a £17 eyecare voucher which can be used by staff to claim a VDU eye test and, if needed, free glasses designed for VDU usage from the chain’s £30 frame range, whereas Accor has a £19 voucher which allows staff to select an optician from more than 3,500 outlets to carry out a VDU eye test and a £50 voucher for VDU glasses. But when it comes to cover under a cash plan, Adams warns that employees are “able to go to the opticians and do pretty much what they want” and employers cannot be sure their legal obligations have been covered.

Cash plan providers maintain their products will cover most legal requirements and can be topped up by employer contributions. Raman Sankaran, director of strategic development at HealthSure, says: “The key point is one of value for the company because the cash plan can be used widely by the majority of the workforce, not only those with VDU usage.”

Keith Bradley, chief executive of HSF Health Plan, adds: “They can [also] be part of a strategy for preventative medicine.”

This is worth bearing in mind for all tests, as it is not unknown for signs of conditions such as brain tumours, diabetes and high cholesterol levels to be picked up – which could affect employees’ long-term health.

If you read nothing else read this…

  • Some 90% of employees who drive for a living say their bosses do not insist they have their eyes tested.
  • The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 stipulate that staff who habitually use VDUs can ask their employer to provide and pay for an eyesight test and, where needed, provide glasses for VDU use, but there are no similar provisions for staff driving for work purposes.
  • Eyecare vouchers and healthcare cash plans can help employers deal with their legal obligations around eyecare.