Eye care and employer obligations: a visionary approach

Eighty-nine per cent of UK companies are failing to meet their legal obligations to protect their employees’ sight, according to a survey of 255 HR professionals published in June by national sight charity the Eyecare Trust and healthcare provider Simplyhealth.

Office workers spend 128,740 hours staring at a screen during their working lifetime, and 90% say they regularly suffer ‘screen fatigue’ – headaches, sore or tired eyes, impaired colour perception and blurred vision – according to research of 2,750 office workers in 2005 by Simply Health.

The company launched the ScreenSmart campaign alongside the survey, which provides employers with practical advice and resources to help care for employees’ eye health. The ScreenSmart study found many employers (44%) fail to meet even the most basic element of the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations, such as providing regular sight tests, and one in 10 has no eye care policy at all.

Small businesses employing fewer than 10 people are the most likely to fail to comply with the legislation. One in five (21%) make no provision for eye care, while only a third (33%) offer to pay for sight tests, and just a quarter (25%) say they ensure workstations are designed to minimise glare or reflections.

But one in five (18%) of big businesses also fail to pay for regular sight tests, and 40% say they would refuse to make a contribution towards the cost of spectacles required solely for visual display unit (VDU) work.

Just 11% of companies say they meet the six key measures outlined in the legislation, even though the penalties for failing to comply include improvement notices, prohibition orders, fines and even criminal prosecution.

“The benefits of investing in an eye-friendly culture are far-reaching as good vision can improve productivity, increase job satisfaction, and reduce days lost to eye-related sickness,” says Iain Anderson, chairman of the Eyecare Trust.

“In fact, we estimate work-related eye strain and vision problems cost UK industry an estimated £1.5bn a year through absenteeism and reduced productivity.”

More than 2,500 businesses across the UK will be sent copies of the ScreenSmart employers’ guide. It includes a handbook with clear guidance on employers’ legal obligations – including advice on who is covered by the regulations and what constitutes ‘regular’ use of a VDU – as well as user-friendly compliance checklists, information on the benefits of being ScreenSmart, posters, eye health advice for employees, and an animated film featuring a step-by-step guide to setting up an ergonomic workstation for use on intranet sites and health and safety training workshops.

If you don’t receive a guide you can download an electronic copy direct from the ScreenSmart website at www.screensmart.co.uk.

The website also includes a range of free resources including:

A selection of posters that can be downloaded as PDFs

An animated guide

A downloadable compliance checklist and action plan for employers

A help facility designed to answer individual employers’ eye health concerns

An online sight test


For more information about Simplyhealth and its range of health plans, phone 0845 075 0063, or visit www.simplyhealth.co.uk.


  • Research study conducted by Opinion Matters between 8-12 February 2010. Sample: 255 HR professionals.

  • ‘Square-Eyed Britain’ report conducted by 72 Point between 1-9 August 2005. Sample: 2,750 office workers.

Ten things every employer must know about the DSE regulations

The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment (DSE)) Regulations require employers to provide all staff who use visual display units (VDUs) with eye tests, when requested, and spectacles, if required. The rules are intricate and sometimes confusing, but there are 10 areas of guidance which will help employers to negotiate the complexities:

1. Perspective

It is important to keep any fears regarding VDU eye damage in perspective. The DSE regulations were implemented in the 1980s in response to a very real fear that computer screens were harmful to the eyes. Since then, a great deal of research has taken place, all of which has failed to demonstrate that VDUs can in themselves cause any form of disease or permanent damage to the eyes. Although the original motivation behind the regulations is questionable, regular eye tests do offer a valuable health check and source of reassurance. They can also help to prevent some of the more common workplace health complaints.

2. Frequency

It is a widespread misconception that VDU eye examinations must be carried out annually. The regulations state that they should be provided before VDU use begins, but leaves frequency to the discretion of the optometrist. Staff can claim an eye examination paid for by the employer whenever they deem it necessary, but the regulations allow employers to deny frivolous demands.

3. ‘Special’ corrective appliances

Requests for expensive frames or lenses often lead to unnecessary additional costs being borne by the employer. The regulations state that ‘special’ corrective appliances (glasses) need only be provided specifically for VDU use. These are distinguished from ‘normal’ corrective appliances that are, put simply, used for anything else. The primary consideration is whether the glasses are used solely to view the screen clearly, and whether this would be possible with the user’s uncorrected vision, or glasses already required for general use.

4. Additional extras

There is no provision within the regulations for contact lenses. In fact, advice is generally against the use of contacts for viewing display screens, due to the drying effect on the eyes. Equally, bifocals and varifocals are not covered by the regulations as the movement of the head necessary to bring the screen into view can be associated with neck and back pain. Understanding that it is not necessary to provide such additional extras can be a big money saver for the employer.

5. Contribution

It is the funding of VDU eyecare that causes the most confusion and can lead to employers failing to meet their obligations. Research by Specsavers Corporate Eyecare shows that, due to this misunderstanding, a massive 73% of companies are not complying with the regulations. In fact, the regulations are quite straightforward in this matter, and clearly state that employers must fully fund both the eye test and glasses, if required, for VDU use. It is also worth remembering that the number of employees who actually need glasses for VDU use is generally less than 10%.

6. Eye strain

Surprisingly, the DSE regulations also apply to those employees who have nothing wrong with their eyesight. Even those with 20/20 vision can get headaches from using a computer. The shifting gaze between keyboard and screen means the eyes have to change focus quickly, which can result in eye strain. Specially tailored glasses with specific tints and lens treatments can help to reduce screen glare and associated problems.

7. Inclusion

The biggest problem is often deciding which staff qualify under the regulations. Contrary to common belief, they do not stipulate a specific length of time that makes an employee a ‘regular user’ of a computer screen. It may be more cost effective to have a policy of general inclusion, rather than spending a disproportionate amount of time trying to exclude certain workers from the scheme.

8. Optometrist choice

The employer has the right to nominate a chosen optician, and it is advisable to research this choice carefully. Both the full eye examination and glasses, if required, for VDU use can be provided for as little as £17. It is common, however, for companies to spend between £50 and £80 per employee, and sometimes as much as £200. Different optometrists not only vary wildly in cost, but also in their level of service, so it is important to ascertain all aspects of their provision. There are often big savings to be made which can include high levels of service.

9. Full examination

There is a significant difference between an eye test and a full eye examination. Ensuring staff benefit from the latter is well worthwhile for employers. A full eye examination can assist with the detection of a number of health issues, including glaucoma, diabetes and cataracts. With sick leave costing organisations increasingly vast amounts of money, this is surely incentive enough, even before considering the personal health benefits.

10. Alternative causes

It is worth bearing in mind that other factors beyond eyesight can also cause headaches and associated illnesses. An incorrectly positioned screen, poor screen-image quality or bad lighting can all have an effect. Anxiety about new technology and general work stress can also be major factors. A holistic approach to healthcare, which includes eye care, is generally accepted as the best way to look after staff.

By Jim Lythgow, director of strategic alliances for Specsavers Corporate Eyecare

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