David Cartwright: Steps to a clear view of eye regulations

David Cartwright Eyecare Trust

Research conducted by the trust shows that, on average, office workers each spend an eye watering 3,000 hours a year staring at screens. So it is probably no surprise 90% say they regularly suffer ‘screen fatigue’, which includes headaches, sore or tired eyes, impaired colour perception and blurred vision.

To combat the visual stress associated with prolonged screen use, the Health and Safety Executive places a legal obligation on all employers to care for the eye health of staff who regularly use Display Screen Equipment (DSE) at work.

To comply with these regulations there are six key steps employers should take:

Identify which employees are covered by the regulations.

All employees who continuously use DSE for an hour or more on most workdays are covered. Some of the regulations also extend to temporary staff and self-employed contractors.

Conduct workstation assessments

Anyone can undertake a workstation assessment, however, they should be suitably trained to recognise poor and inefficient workstation layouts, environments and practices. It is advisable to conduct an assessment when a user commences work at the workstation and after any material change to the station or its immediate environment.

Act on any issues highlighted by the assessment

An assessment might highlight issues with the ergonomic design of the workspace, the environment or the working practice of the individual. Common issues that require attention include: Poor office lighting, so are there blinds on windows to prevent harsh glare and reflections? Awkward desk arrangements, does the office furniture allow for a comfortable seated position where the user’s eyes are level with the top of the computer screen and the screen is an arm’s length away? Dry office environments. Are humidity levels satisfactory? Plants can help prevent dryness created by electronic devices.

Provide employees with regular sight tests

DSE users should have their sight tested when they commence their employment with an organisation and at regular intervals thereafter. Every two years is recommended.

Users may also request a sight test paid for by their employer at any time if they are having visual difficulties.

Make a contribution towards the cost of any vision correction required solely for DSE work

Employers can subscribe to corporate eyecare schemes to help cover the cost of providing regular sight tests and eyewear for use with DSE. A number of providers offer a wide range of packages for both large and small employers.

Provide health and safety training on the risks associated with intensive screen work

Employees should be regularly reminded about good working practices and the importance of good eye health in the workplace. Basic guidance should include the 20-20-20 rule – Look away from your screen every 20 minutes, for 20 seconds and focus on objects 20 feet away!

Complying with this legislation is relatively straightforward yet a study conducted by the Trust found many employers fail to meet their obligations

The worst offenders were found to be small businesses where one in five (21%) made no eye care provision; just a third (33%) offered to pay for sight tests and only a quarter (25%) said they ensure workstations are designed to minimise glare or reflections. These aretwo factors that can trigger screen fatigue and cause visual trauma.

Almost one in five (18%) big businesses also failed to pay for regular sight tests, even though the penalties for non-compliance with the legislation include improvement notices, prohibition orders, fines and even criminal prosecution.

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The benefits of employers investing in an eye-friendly culture are far-reaching because good vision can improve productivity, increase job satisfaction and reduce days lost to eye-related sickness. In fact, we estimate work-related eyestrain and vision problems cost UK industry around £1.5 billion a year through absenteeism and reduced productivity.

David Cartwright is chairman of the Eyecare Trust