Eye care: Clearly confused

Most companies know they are obliged to have an eyecare policy for staff, but recent research commissioned by Specsavers Corporate Eyecare1 highlights the extent of the confusion that surrounds the regulations. The misunderstanding and poor implementation can, at best, prove costly for the company and, at worst, represent a health risk for staff.


The research, conducted in April 2009, shows that businesses are spending unnecessary money on eyecare but, despite the overspend, figures also show the take-up of schemes to be poor.


The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations (DSE) require employers to provide all staff who use visual display units (VDUs) with eye examinations, when requested, and glasses, if required specifically for the use of VDUs. While 88% of those surveyed stated they were familiar with the regulations, 30% believe the regulations are unclear.


Cost


The biggest area of confusion seems to be over the funding. The majority (90%) understand that they must offer, and pay for, the eye examinations for staff who work with VDUs. However, there is still a great lack of understanding, with 79% of companies believing they only need to make a contribution. Only 17% believed the company should fund the total cost of glasses required for VDU use. This is extremely low, as the regulations clearly state that the employer must pay the full costs of both an eye test and the provision of basic spectacles, where required.


Similarly, 28% wrongly thought the company should offer and pay for varifocal and bifocal glasses for VDU use. The regulations stipulate that the company may only need to provide single-vision glasses and also state that varifocal and bifocal lenses may not be suitable for VDU use, as the constant movement of the head to bring the screen into focus may cause neck and back problems. Such misinterpretations can prove costly to the employer, as varifocal and bifocal lenses are much more expensive than single vision options.


Similarly, 48% of respondents believe it is up to the employee to decide which optician they visit. Prices can differ vastly among opticians. Although the company is allowed to let staff go to the optician of their choice, they may be leaving themselves open to a much higher bill than necessary. The regulations state that a company is entitled to nominate its chosen optician. If the choice is made following careful research into cost and service, then the employer is able to control and reduce their outlay.


In other research from Specsavers Corporate Eyecare,2 conducted in 2008, 25% of respondents believed the total cost of an eye examination and provision of glasses would be more than £100, and 84% believed it would be more than £50. This may be due less to misconception and more to bitter experience. In fact, it is possible to purchase vouchers for the total cost of the examination and glasses for just £17.


Much of the cost variance stems not only from the optician visited, but also from the method of payment. Experience among our extensive client base tells us that the actual administrative cost of a £17 eye examination can reach in excess of £54 when each transaction is paid individually through reimbursing expenses or paying invoices.


It is now possible to meet the DSE regulations with just one VDU voucher. These can be purchased from a corporate eyecare provider and cover the entire cost of the eye examination and VDU glasses if required. This cuts down unnecessary administration and also ensures a fair and consistent approach across all staff.


Communication


A major part of the DSE regulations concerns communication. It is not enough to simply have an eyecare policy – it must be regularly communicated to all relevant employees. Our research shows that an impressive 91% of respondents are aware that they should be communicating their eyecare policy to their staff. Despite this, however, nearly two-thirds (59%) of companies said that less than half of their staff who work with VDUs actually take up the eyecare benefit offered.


While the vast majority of employers believe they are familiar with the regulations and think they are communicating them clearly, take-up remains disappointingly low.


The evidence suggests that far greater communication of eyecare policies is required. We believe that part of the issue is that if companies are given inflated prices or are simply unaware of the real costs, they may be less keen to encourage take-up.


Examinations


It is vital for everyone to have regular eye examinations. They not only check our vision but, with new retinal cameras, opticians are able to keep a regular watch on our overall eye and general health. A simple eye examination can pick up illnesses linked with diabetes and high blood pressure. It is a terrible shame if an unwarranted fear of costs is leading to a failure to comply with important regulations regarding our health.


Many companies waste time trying to stipulate, and then oversee, how many hours each employee has to spend at a display screen before they qualify for company-funded eyecare. Surprisingly, the regulations do not actually state how many hours or how much of their day an employee must use a VDU to qualify. The regulations cover ‘habitual users’. In our experience, if a cost-effective and administratively effective supplier has been found, it actually proves more expensive for companies to spend time trying to implement a policy of exclusion. In fact, the regulations themselves state that, contrary to the fears of many employers, less than 10% of employees actually require corrective glasses for VDU use.


In today’s world, where nearly every working role involves some use of computers, a policy of inclusion for all may well be the best option. This is particularly so when considering the time taken in sick leave by staff – be they VDU users or not – with headaches and migraines, or more serious illnesses that could have been detected through eye tests.


Asked how often the regulations state that an eye examination should take place, 42% of respondents believe it is every two years, and 25% stated annually. In fact, the regulations stipulate that the guidance of the professional optometrist should be followed. In practice, this is likely to be every two years for the vast majority of patients, but will depend entirely upon their specific needs. There is provision for an employee to request an eye examination at any point if they are suffering from visual problems, but it is clearly stated that this must be ‘within reason’ and that frivolous requests may be declined.


Vital factors


It is clear both from the recent research and long-term experience that two things are vital when complying with the regulations and making sure that staff are well looked after. The first is learning: finding out as much as possible about the DSE legislation and get advice and costings from experts. The second is liaising: communicating company policies as widely, clearly and often as practical. The costs associated with complying are far lower than most employers envisage, and certainly far lower than the cost of not complying at all.


New legislation for drivers


Currently, the only eyesight requirement for drivers is that they can clearly see a number plate at 20 meters in front of them. This came into force in the 1930s, when driving conditions were very different. However, at the Federation of Manufacturing Opticians’ (FMO) Eurocom 1 in 2008, it was announced that new legislation will soon be introduced to ensure that the eyesight of both commercial and private drivers is adequate.


The legislation, passed in the EU Parliament in 2006, is set to be introduced to member states in 2011. As the current proposal stands, holders of commercial licences will have to have their eyes tested every five years, and holders of private licences will be tested every 10-15 years. Each member state has until 2013 to translate the directive into national law. Obviously, this could have far-reaching effects for anyone who drives in the course of their work, and will undoubtedly have consequences for employers.


Jim Lythgow is director of strategic alliances for Specsavers Corporate Eyecare.


References


1 Research undertaken by Emedia in April 2009 on behalf of Specsavers Corporate Eyecare. There were 255 respondents, representing a minimum of 210,976 staff.


2 Research undertaken by emedia in November 2008 on behalf of Specsavers Corporate Eyecare.


More information


For a copy of the Specsavers Corporate Eyecare Guide to DSE legislation, and/or the Specsavers Corporate Eyecare Guide to the Driving Legislation, call: 0115 933 0800 or e-mail: corporateeycare@uk.specsavers.com

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