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The impact of screens on our eye health

A few as 10% of employers are fully complying with display screen equipment (DSE) health and safety regulations, research has suggested. That is a concern, but in an increasingly sedentary and screen-based working world, employers maybe need to rethink their approach to workplace eyecare anyway.

Employee health and wellbeing – does workplace eyecare need to be rethought for the modern working age?

A few as 10% of employers are fully complying with display screen equipment (DSE) health and safety regulations, research from Specsavers Corporate Eyecare has suggested. The survey of more than 500 senior UK decision-makers showed there was a willingness and appetite to provide DSE eyecare. But the reality often fell far short.

The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 and 2002 state that employers must:

  • Carry out a risk assessment of workstations used by employees to reduce any identified risks.
  • Ensure employees take regular and adequate breaks from looking at their screens.
  • Ensure employees are aware of their entitlement to yearly eye tests, with the cost of the eye test met by the employer in full.
  • Provide their computer users with adequate health and safety training for any workstation they work at, including how to properly adjust their chairs and desks (if adjustable) and the correct way to sit and work at their workstation.

Workplace eyecare education

However, the Specsavers survey concluded that more than a third of employers (39%) did not provide any eyecare at all for screen users. Almost a third (30%) provided eye tests for all, but not glasses.

A total of 14% provided eye tests for some and 7% provided the full requirements – eyecare and glasses – but only for some screen users. This meant that 61% of employers were at least providing some level of eyecare. However it pointed out that just 10% were fully complying.

Employers on average classed around 68% of their employees as screen users. This fell to 55% in Wales and reached a maximum of 77% in Yorkshire and Humberside.

Screen users were at the lowest (42% of employees) in the food and drink sector and highest in the media (94%).

Jim Lythgow, Director of Strategic Alliances for Specsavers Corporate Eyecare, said: “We believe there are two vital elements in increasing the number of employers complying with the DSE regulations: the first is to ensure they are educated about the full requirements of the legislation; the second is to make DSE eyecare as simple and cost-effective as possible to procure.”

Changing use of screens

So, what should employers be making of this? First off, at a superficial level, clearly there is an issue here with employers failing to comply with the regulations as they should.

However, the wider question is, does this matter? Of course, the regulations are there for a good reason and no one is advocating employers should simply ignore health and safety regulations.

But the fact is that the most recent iteration dates back to 2012. This is relatively recent in legislative terms. Although it’s a lifetime ago in terms of the speed at which digital technology has advanced, both in the workplace and at home.

For one thing, the vast majority of office-based workers are now using and expected to be able to use, display screens for their work.

Chances are they will also be using screens – their smartphones – in their lunch break and on their commute and perhaps tablets or laptops when they get home. They’ll probably be spending some time watching TV. In fact, it is estimated we nowadays spend about half of every day using screens in one way or another.

To that end, while the DSE regulations mean well, is there an argument to be made as to how relevant they are to a modern, digital workplace and indeed, how viable or relevant anymore?

Ergonomic assessments

The other important point to be making in this debate is that, while there may be a case for a rethink, the driving principle behind the need to be protecting the eye health of employees is an important one in our increasingly screen-based age.

On top of this, there is the ongoing need to be ensuring workstations are appropriate and fit for purpose. This needs to include carrying out appropriate ergonomic assessments. Employers should also ensure that employees understand the importance of correct seating and standing when using screens. They should take regular breaks and their employer should offer access to regular eye tests and eye care.

As Dr Lucy Wright, Chief Medical Officer at Optima Health points out, the over-arching message needs to be that, even if the DSE regulations as they currently stand no longer feel that relevant, if anything workplace eyecare and eye health is becoming more, not less, important.

“What the DSE regulations do, is in effect, offer employers a template, a benchmark for good practice in this area. Our increasingly screen-based lifestyles mean that offering ergonomic and eyecare support, both up to and beyond the DSE regulations, is a way that employers can differentiate themselves from their competitors

Lucy adds that “Being on the ball and proactive about workplace eyecare and ergonomics allows ‘good’ employers to position themselves as offering something of growing value and importance to employees in a fast-changing world. Offering eyecare and eye health support can also of course be important in terms of flagging up other healthcare conditions, such as diabetes or issues around blood pressure”.