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Vision at work – a health and safety reminder

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With so much work being done by computer, employment law firm Peninsula has issued a reminder about the health and safety duties employers owe to their screen-tied workforce.

With some employees spending 35 hours a week sitting at their workstations, it’s little wonder that 90 per cent of display screen equipment (DSE) users report visual fatigue with the most common symptoms being sore, itchy eyes and occasional blurred vision.

The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992, amended in 2002, require employers to provide eyesight tests for all DSE users.

A ‘user’ is defined in the Approved Code of Practice as ‘someone who uses the DSE for an hour a day or more of high attention use’. Most employees who use DSE would probably fall within this category. Importantly, the regulations also apply to agency staff and home workers if they are defined as users.

The use of bifocal or vari-focal lenses, although not stated as inadequate for DSE use, can have side effects as there is a need to adjust the head and neck more often to see the screen, possibly leading to neck and back pain. It is recommended that even persons who already wear prescription glasses should be provided with corrective lenses and frames designed for wearing whilst using DSE.

But an employer’s responsibility for eyesight isn’t limited to DSE. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSAWR) reiterate the need to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of employees and the requirement to implement controls to minimise any subsequent risk.

Therefore similar duties are placed on employers to provide eyesight tests for employees who undertake detailed, high concentration work or drive a vehicle as part of the normal job role by MHSAWR.

Employers should be aware that they have a duty to ensure that all employees who are engaged in tasks that need excellent eyesight are provided with eye testing to ensure their safety in the undertaking of their specific task(s) and it should be remembered that there is also a duty placed on the employer to ensure that their employees are competent for any task they are required to undertake.

Peter Done, managing director of Peninsula, says: “The two sets of regulations are clear on this issue.

“If employers choose only to apply the requirement of the DSE Regulations and ignore the requirements of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, a situation could arise in which an employer may be held liable for an accident that can be attributed to the poor eyesight to an employee carrying out a task that needs a minimum standard of eyesight (such as reading a number plate at a distance of 20 yards).

“Therefore the employer could be forced to pay compensation to that individual or be prosecuted by an enforcement authority.

“It is important to remember that the provision allowed, as a result of eyesight tests paid for by employers, only extends to ‘basic frames and lenses’ so all those employees hoping to acquire a free pair of lenses with the latest designer frames will be disappointed to know that these are not covered in the scope of the regulations!

“If an employee wants to purchase these then only the cost of the basic frames and lenses can be reimbursed.

“For larger organisations it may be worthwhile looking at corporate eye care from an optician of choice as this may work out to be significantly more cost-effective.”

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