Eye exams can offer more than just an insight into vision-related issues. Businesses should therefore be encouraged to provide an eyecare policy for all employees, says Jim Lythgow of Specsavers Corporate Eyecare.
Occupational eyecare has long been an integral and vital part of health and safety but it is now being recognised as having far wider-reaching implications.
A full eye examination, which may now be included in many occupational eyecare schemes, carries huge additional benefits. Groundbreaking new technology is now allowing qualified optometrists to actually view the back of the eye, the retina, and to take digital photographs. This is the only part of the body where the microcirculation of blood can be directly observed, and can reveal signs of a variety of eye conditions and wider health problems. These digital retinal cameras, also known as fundus cameras, allow the optician to not only view, but also capture images of the retina, enabling monitoring and comparison over time.
Who can benefit?
The 1992 Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations (amended in 2002) state that all employees who use visual display units (VDUs) must be provided with an eye test when requested and glasses if required. In today’s technology-led working environment this covers virtually all employees. This means that the vast majority of employees will benefit from a company-funded eye examination. Equally, any employee who requires prescription lenses in their safety eyewear will also need to visit a qualified optometrist.
So, virtually all employed people will have the benefit of being offered company-funded eyecare. The important distinction here is for the employer to ensure that staff are being offered a full eye examination, as opposed to just an eye test. Fundus cameras are now in use in many optical stores across the country and it is down to the employer to ensure that members of staff select an optometrist that can offer this vital service.
Screening services utilising fundus cameras can detect and monitor many serious and often life-threatening illnesses and health conditions, such as:
- various heart conditions;
- cancers of the eye, such as melanomas;
- brain tumours;
- high cholesterol;
- detached retina;
- hypertension (high blood pressure); and
As an example: an 11-year-old schoolboy from Taunton recently had his life saved when an optician spotted the signs of a rare eye disease during a routine check-up. An examination with the retinal camera revealed that his optic disc was deformed. He was sent straight to hospital, where doctors discovered that he was suffering from papilloedema, which causes increased intracranial pressure on the optical disc. Left undetected, the pressure behind his eye would have dramatically affected his vision and could have proved fatal.
If potentially serious conditions can be detected early, then a simple eye examination could, quite literally, be life saving.”
The implications for the employees themselves are obviously huge. With a large number of staff receiving retinal screening as part of their basic corporate eyecare, if potentially serious conditions can be detected early, then a simple eye examination could, quite literally, be life saving.
There are also, however, great advantages for the employer. The illnesses and conditions that could be detected early by a fundus camera result in vast numbers of lost working days each year. Corporate eyecare is available at low cost and retinal screening is often offered within the cost of a full eye examination. The preventative care it offers has enormous positive cost implications attached and could save businesses millions of pounds each year in terms of lost working time. The CBI Absence and Workplace Health Survey 2010 calculates the cost of absence across the economy as a whole in 2009 as being £16.8 billion. The same survey reveals that the average rate of absence in 2009 was 6.4 days per employee. Indeed, the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics state that around 5.8 million scheduled working days are lost to sickness or injury each year.
These figures regarding absence and loss of revenue are closely linked to the illnesses and health conditions detectable with a fundus camera. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, can be discovered through retinal screening. The “Health Survey for England”, published in 2008, estimates that 40% of adults suffer from hypertension. The significance for diabetics is also huge. According to Diabetes UK, there are currently 2.6 million people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK and more than 500,000 people who have the condition but are unaware. Heart conditions are also often revealed and then monitored by regular screening, again hugely significant for the 2.5 million people in the UK currently living with heart disease, according to the British Heart Foundation.
Eye tests provide value for money
The worth for the employer is clear: full eye examinations are available at very low cost and in many circumstances are actually obligatory under health and safety regulations. If an examination includes the use of a fundus camera, the medical conditions and illnesses that can be detected are numerous. These are the very illnesses that can lead to employees being on long-term or regular sick leave and are also often preventable or can be medically managed, if discovered at an early stage.
With so many employees covered by the existing eyecare regulations, some employers may wonder if they need to act on this issue. The fact is that around 100 people in the UK start to go blind every day. The early detection of eye disease is vital to optimise treatment. The danger is particularly prevalent for diabetics. Department of Health figures show that more than half a million people in England who suffer from diabetes are not being screened for retinopathy. This is a common complication for diabetics and can be detected using a fundus camera. If identified early enough, blindness can be prevented in 90% of cases.
Employers can take a lead role in improving the situation by implementing an eyecare policy for all staff. Indeed, it is often more cost-effective to implement a policy of inclusion, than to spend time and money excluding a few individuals.
It is important for each business, as well as each individual, that eyecare now also becomes a way of life.”
The value of such comprehensive corporate eyecare goes further still than the health benefits for staff and the reduced absence for the company. Research by optician Specsavers shows that eyecare in itself is of value to employees, with nearly half (42%) of all employers stating that they believe their employees rate eyecare as equally important as other benefits in their package. This is extremely interesting when taken in context of the monetary benefits on offer. The advantage here is that eyecare has a very low cost attached, especially compared with other benefits such as medical insurance. Much as they would like to still be able to do so, many companies are finding that financial constraints are now making it simply impossible for them to be able to offer the full package of benefits that may have been available in the past. Eyecare may provide a solution, being low cost but highly valued.
Published in October 2010, the health and safety review by Lord Young introduced a “sensible approach” to office health and safety. The more obvious hazardous areas are rightly still treated with caution. Even for an everyday desk job, however, a basic eyecare policy can do a lot to promote the health and wellbeing of staff at work and, with the serious conditions that can be detected by a fundus camera, in their life as a whole.
Making careful procurement decisions is a vital aspect to increasing the value of eyecare. Specsavers research shows that companies typically spend between £50 and £80, and sometimes as much as £200, on eye tests and glasses for VDU users, when this service can actually be provided for as little as £17. A company employing 1,000 people could be over-spending by more than £21,000. These poor procurement choices obviously start to negate some of the financial benefits of eyecare to the employer. Employers should fully investigate all of the options and find out and compare exactly what each optician offers for their fee. Some will include full eye examinations, others just an eye test. Some will utilise a specialist fundus camera, others may not.
Staying one step ahead
Both employers and their staff have embraced so many new technologies over the past couple of decades. Most of us could not imagine how we managed in our work without the aid of email, the internet and mobile phones. We now also greatly appreciate the need for keeping fit and healthy, for preventative care and the benefits of early detection of illnesses. It is important for each business, as well as each individual, that eyecare now also becomes a way of life. It is not a nice additional perk but a service that has wide-reaching effects throughout both working and home life.
There was a time when it was not thought necessary to take regular exercise or to watch what we eat. There will come a time when everyone naturally makes a regular appointment with their optometrist, in the same way they currently do with their dentist. It is the forward-thinking companies that will benefit first and to the greatest advantage.
Jim Lythgow is director of strategic alliances, Specsavers Corporate Eyecare.
For more information about introducing a corporate eye care service for your employees, read our free guide.