There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent cost-of-living crisis has taken its toll on our physical, mental and financial health. It’s perhaps little surprise that AOP research showed that 36% of people are wearing out-of-date prescription lenses, while 62% of those who wear glasses or contact lenses are “putting off” visiting an optometrist. Plus, 31% admit to wearing eyewear belonging to friends or family to avoid spending money.
Researchers from the University of Leeds found half of surveyed British adults now look at screens for 11 hours or more a day, with more than a quarter looking at screens for 14 or more hours a day. So it’s no wonder that 77% of UK adults say that their eyes feel strained after a long day at work.
The technical term for this type of eye strain is Computer Vision Syndrome. This has a number of symptoms including headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes and redness. While using a computer does not cause permanent damage to your eyes, discomfort and pain can have a huge negative impact on employees’ experience and physical wellbeing, leading to loss of productivity or even sickness absence.
Like other health issues, business leaders need to recognise how eyesight can impact the overall health, wellbeing and productivity of their workforces. A key step towards this is understanding and appreciating the financial strain of optometry appointments — as well as any subsequent corrective lenses — on employees.
Here are five tips to help the eye health of your workforce:
1. Desk assessments
Current health and safety legislation means employers have a duty of care to ensure their staff are fit for work. As a result, they need to assess whether desk areas that include screens are suitable for employee needs and take steps to reduce any potential health risks if not. Display screen equipment (DSE) assessments for home and hybrid workers can be done remotely online or over the telephone.
Make sure lighting conditions are suitable with plenty of natural light and tone down the brightness of computer screens.
2. Eyesight testing
The law states that employers must arrange an eye test for DSE users if they ask for one and provide glasses if an employee needs them for DSE use. If an ordinary prescription is suitable, employers do not have to pay for glasses. However, it is up to the employer how they provide the test. For example, they could let users arrange the tests and reimburse them for the cost later, or they could send all their DSE users to one optician.
During a sight test, early signs of conditions such as glaucoma and other health conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure may also be detected which, when detected early enough can be treated or managed successfully.
3. Encourage the 20-20-20 method
Encourage all employees to follow the 20-20-20 rule – every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away – allows eye muscles temporarily to relax from having to focus intently, which guards against fatigue and associated eye problems.
4. Corporate culture
For many businesses of any size, ensuring such health and wellbeing initiatives are taken seriously requires education, awareness-raising activities and backing from the top. Cultural change of this nature requires senior leadership to lead by example as well — so make sure the executives are on board and clearly demonstrating their own commitment to their eye health too.
5. Offering Optical Insurance
Optical insurance can help your workforce and their dependants maintain good eye health by providing cover towards the cost of regular eye examinations, as well as provide help towards the cost of frames and lenses. Cover can be funded by the employer, the employee or part-funded by both.
As the cost-of-living crisis continues to bite, eye health risks being neglected exactly at a time when screen use is sky high. As a responsible employer, promoting good eye health should form part of your wider health and wellbeing culture. Overlooking your employees’ eye health could be detrimental not only to the overall health of your workforce but to general productivity and even employee morale.
Unum Dental is a trading name of Unum Limited which is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Registered Office: Milton Court, Dorking, Surrey, RH4 3LZ. Registered in England 983768.
 UK screen use in 2022: A need for guidance – University of Leeds, March 2022