Health & Safety

To mark National Eye Health Week (23 to 29 September 2019), I thought it would be a good idea to look at the importance of good eye health in the workplace.

Millions of workers spend the majority of their working day using computers, laptops or other display screen equipment (DSE) including tablets and smartphones.  A 2018 study showed that office workers, on average, spend 1,700 hours in front of a computer screen a year.

Unsurprisingly, excessive ‘screen time’, can have a negative impact on a person’s eye health. For one, people blink less when they are concentrating on DSE, making them more prone to developing dry eye disease. A person naturally blinks only 2-3 times a minute when staring at a screen, in comparison to 20 times a minute when they are not. The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 (as amended) contain requirements to ensure you, as an employer, can prevent or control the risk of injury to the millions of workers who spend their days ‘staring at screens’.

So what are the risks?

  • Eye discomfort (in the form of dry eyes)
  • Eye strain causing headaches and fatigue
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Blurred or disturbed vision

And what are the causes?

  • Poor lighting
  • Glare on a digital screen
  • Improper viewing distances
  • Poor seating posture
  • Uncorrected vision problems

What are the employer’s duties?

Although you would now be hard pushed to find a job that does not require the use of a computer, laptop, phone or tablet in some aspect of the role, the regulations only apply to employers whose workers regularly use DSE as a significant part of their normal work (i.e. daily, for continuous periods of an hour or more).

The regulations define a worker who uses DSE for their work purposes as a ‘User’. The regulations require an employer to plan the activities of Users at work, so that their daily work on a display screen is periodically interrupted by breaks or changes of activity. Additionally if an eye test is requested by a User an employer must provide one as soon as practicable after the request.

Schedule 1 of the regulations provides employers with requirements regarding the equipment provided to use DSE, and the environment DSE is used in. These can be summarised as:

Equipment
  • The display screen image must be stable with no flickering or forms of instability;
  • The brightness must be easily adjustable by the User;
  • The screen must swivel and tilt, easily and freely to suit the needs of the User; and
  • The screen should be clear of reflective glare and reflections liable to cause discomfort to the User.
Environment
  • Lighting conditions should provide an appropriate contrast between the screen and the background environment;
  • Possible disturbing glare or reflections on the screen or other equipment shall be prevented; and
  • Windows shall be fitted with a suitable system of adjustable covering to attenuate the daylight that falls on the workstation.

The regulations also look to prevent and/or minimise the risk of musculoskeletal conditions caused or contributed to, by poor ‘work stations’ when using DSE, and they define and describe other preventative measures that employers should put in place. This is a topic in itself, I digress…

If you employ Users, you will probably be defined as a User too, and it is therefore important that you are aware of the steps that need to be taken to protect the eye health of your workers and yourself.

Bearing in mind all that I have already mentioned, I shall leave you with a small tip, for promoting good eye health known as the ’20-20-20 rule’. When they are using DSE at work (or at home for that matter) remind your workers that every 20 minutes, they should look away from their screen for 20 seconds, and focus on something 20 feet away. I am of course not suggesting that you should be reminding them every 20 minutes, but better awareness throughout the workplace will help your workers look after their own eyes at the same time, as you put in place all the preventative measures that you are able to as well.

Ellen Andrew

Solicitor at Brodies LLP
Ellen is a Solicitor in the Insurance & Risk team based in Edinburgh.

She has experience in various litigation areas such as personal injury, medical negligence, professional negligence, employer’s liability, public liability, RTA, catastrophic injury and fatal accidents both in the Sheriff Courts and the Court of Session.
Ellen Andrew