Eyecare for the digital age

The Display Screen Equipment regulations predate the ubiquity of screens, tablets, laptops and smartphones in the modern workplace. So are they still fit for purpose? Yes, says Jim Lythgow, but there is a good argument for a wholesale rethink of the role and purpose of eyecare in the workplace.

The Display Screen Equipment (DSE) regulations were implemented under the Health and Safety Act in 1992, and then amended in 2002.

These were set in place to ensure that screen users had access to appropriate eyecare. There were strict rules put in place as to who counted as a screen user, based mostly upon the amount of time they spent at a monitor and the regularity of this part of their role.

About the author

Jim Lythgow is director of strategic alliances at Specavers Corporate Eyecare

Yet, as technology has developed, this definition appears to have become more complex. When the regulations were written in the early 1990s, smartphones did not even exist. In fact, not many people owned a mobile phone at all. So how can these same rules legislate in today’s more digitised workplace?

Spread of smartphones

To establish the extent that smartphones have infiltrated the workplace, Specsavers Corporate Eyecare recently conducted a survey among 500 employers in UK companies. This revealed that, on average, employers class more than two-thirds (66%) of their employees as “smartphone users”.

Asking about the eyecare offered to these employees, the survey found that just a quarter (25%) of employers provide eye care for all smartphone users and 18% provide eye care for some smartphone users.

It would appear, therefore, that employers perhaps do not view smartphones as relevant in terms of the DSE regulations, which may seem reasonable given the timing of when the rules were drafted. It may surprise some to learn, however, that the DSE regulations do indeed cover the use of smartphones.

Understanding the extent of the HSE regulations

Within the HSE booklet Work with Display Screen Equipment: Guidance on Regulations, paragraph 1.4.d specifically excludes from the DSE regulations only “portable systems not in prolonged use”. So, it is the length of time for which a screen is in use that is relevant, rather than the type of screen, or even the size.

It is also made clear in regulation 1.2.d that the regularity of use is important. So, it seems logical to infer that, if a smartphone is in prolonged and regular use, it is indeed covered under the DSE regulations and that employers must, therefore, provide eyecare to employees who use smartphones in this manner for work purposes.

Regulation 1.4.e states that there is an exclusion of “calculators, cash registers or any equipment having a small data or measurement display, required for direct use of the equipment”. Paragraph 25 of the guidance explains that this exclusion is because of the fact that these screens are not usually intensively monitored for long continuous spells and gives examples of cardiac monitors and oscilloscopes.

It is here that the HSE specifically mentions mobile phones. It says that: “with the merging of information and communication technologies, small screens are increasingly used for a wider range of purposes. Examples are mobile phones and personal organisers that can be used to compose and edit text, view images or connect to the Internet.”

Smartphones could be seen to fit this definition. The HSE goes on to explain that such items have much of the functionality of larger DSE and should not be excluded based purely on their smaller size.

Rethinking eyecare policy

So, smartphones are included under the DSE regulations, given the right circumstances of use and, from the research, it is clear they are prevalent in the workplace. Employers may find, therefore, that in our increasingly digitised workspace they need to review their eyecare policy to ensure it covers employees using less traditional DSE.

The advantages for wellbeing and occupational health go beyond employees merely being provided with an eye-test to check their sight is adequate for screen use.

There are much wider health benefits to eyecare, including assessing the health of the eye itself. Furthermore, a full eye examination can aid with the detection of systemic illnesses, including diabetes, heart conditions, risk of stroke, thyroid problems and some cancers.

This is because of the fact that the optometrist is able to view small blood vessels at the back of the eye, which reflect the condition of blood vessels elsewhere in the body.

Implementing an eyecare policy that includes more employees, such as those using smartphones, may well lead to advantages for the business as well as its employees.

In fact, considering wider positive healthcare benefits, such as managing minor issues of headaches and eyestrain, which in turn affect productivity, there may well be an argument for implementing eyecare for all employees, whether they use a smartphone, a traditional PC monitor, or no DSE at all.

References

Research undertaken by Opinium on behalf of Specsavers Corporate Eyecare in November 2017

http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/priced/l26.pdf

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