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The effects of sun on the eyes

It has been a particularly hot summer and while employers and employees alike seem to generally be aware of the need to cover the skin and use sun screen in sunny weather, there may be less awareness regarding the benefits of sun-related protective eye wear – sunglasses.  This is especially important if working outside.

So here are a few pointers to help everyone stay safe and still enjoy the summer;

Sun damage
Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can be as harmful to your eyes as they are to your skin. They can cause short- and long-term eye damage including cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.

The eyes can even suffer from sunburn-like inflammation for the cornea, at the front of the eye. This can be painful and greatly increase the risk of developing more serious, even sight-threatening, conditions in the future.

Employers should, therefore, consider offering sun glasses to employees as part of their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), or as a straightforward employee benefit.

Choose wisely
There are a few things to consider when selecting sun glasses. Choice of quality and style can be vital. Darker glasses do not necessarily provide more UV protection. Check sunglasses comply with BSEN 1836: 1997, or bear the CE kite mark and are marked UV 400.

Dangers from the sun can be reduced by polarised lenses. They use a layer of iodine crystals to absorb the glare. Non-polarised sunglasses will only have a minimal effect, even though they will reduce the amount of visible light.

In fact, cheap sunglasses may actually increase the amount of UV filtering into the eyes as they cause the pupil to dilate, without providing the necessary UV protection.

Try before you buy
The shape and fit of sunglasses is also important. The larger the lens, the more protection they will give the eyes, as there is less chance that light will filter in through the sides. The eyelids are particularly prone to cancer, this is because the skin is thinner here than on most of the rest of the body. Good quality sunglasses, with larger lenses, will also protect the delicate skin surrounding the eyes.

A good fit will ensure the sunglasses do not slip off or dig into the head. As with all glasses, be they for vision only, for safety or for sun protection, comfort is paramount to them actually being worn.

Visit an expert
Opticians are able to provide advice on all aspects of eyecare. They will be able to give guidance regarding the best sunglasses for employees in terms of protection, comfort and appearance.

Purchasing sunglasses from a reputable optician will not only mean that they offer the required sun protection, but sunglasses may be available with prescription lenses, or photochromic lenses, which instantly adapt to light changes, darkening in bright light.

Providing protection
It is the responsibility of the employer to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), where required, to reduce the risk of injury. In this regard, sun glasses should be considered as a vital piece of protective apparel, especially during the current sunny weather.

There are two dangers where sunglasses can help to reduce the risk: one is in preventing glare, which may be dangerous to drivers and those working with machinery outdoors; the other is preventing harm to the eyes from the sun’s rays.

Consider the benefits
Many employees receive company-funded eye care because they are a screen user or need prescription safety glasses, but sunglasses are a low-cost employee benefit that can be offered to all employees. They can be a particularly welcome benefit if employees are offered a choice of a wide range of styles and designer options.

So, while employees may be enjoying this sunny weather, it is important that the employer takes more of an overview and considers the wider impact. The sun can have great benefits in terms of mood and morale, and the employer can help to maximise this by ensuring employees remain safe and feel valued.

Jim Lythgow – Director of Strategic Alliances, Specsavers Corporate Eyecare

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