Prevent Blindness, a leading charity for eye safety, preventing blindness and preserving eyesight, conducted a study that suggests around 50,000 moderate to severe eye injuries occurred at work in 2019. Occupational Health Expert, Chris Salmon explains how companies can protect employee eye safety in the workplace.
The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 is the primary legislation regulating employee safety at work. Under the Act, your employer has a legal duty of care for your health, safety and wellbeing at work.
The HSE states that employers must ensure “workers are protected from anything that may cause harm, effectively controlling any risks to injury or health that could arise in the workplace.“
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires every employer to “make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work”
The risk assessment should identify specific risks to eyesight. Where it is reasonably practical to do so, risks should be eliminated entirely by either removing a hazardous task from a worker’s role or finding alternative ways of completing the task.
If the risk cannot be removed, then it must be controlled. In most cases, it will involve identifying the lowest risk method to complete the task and supplying suitable PPE.
By law, where there is risk of eye injury or strain, your employer must provide appropriate PPE to enable you to do your job safely.
Depending on the level of risk, PPE may be no more than a pair of sunglasses. If safety glasses or goggles are required, the assessment should identify whether these need to offer impact resistance or protection against chemical splashes, for example.
Where there is serious risk of eye injury under complex circumstances, eye protection must be certified for the specific purpose.
When working with lasers, your employer must provide specialist lenses that protect against the exposure to laser wavelengths.
You must receive training in how to correctly use the PPE.
If you feel you need PPE despite the risk assessment not requiring it, your employer must comply with reasonable requests to supply it.
Approximately 80% of us use a computer on a daily basis. The vast majority of us use a mobile device.
The risk of developing eye problems in relation to computer usage is underestimated because issues tend to develop gradually.
The very real eye health risks associated with DSE usage are addressed by the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992.
‘Computer Vision Syndrome’ and ‘Digital Eye Strain’ are terms that describe a range of symptoms from prolonged screen usage; including blurred or double vision, sore or dry eyes, eyestrain, headaches and difficulty focusing.
Your employer should conduct a DSE workstation assessment of your whole workstation. Your desk, chair, lighting, monitor, keyboard and mouse must all be taken into account. A trained assessor must review the assessment, configure your workstation correctly and, if necessary, provide any special equipment such as an anti-glare monitor filter, ergonomic chair or wrist support.
Your employer must also allow and ensure that you take regular breaks to help avert eye strain.
Employers are often not aware that they have a similar duty of care for home workers.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 state that “employers are responsible for the health and safety of homeworkers, as far as is reasonably practicable.”
Under the regulations, your employer must ensure your home working environment is risk-assessed.
In most cases, especially in light of COVID-19, it is acceptable for your employer to give you a self-assessment form. Your employer should still be available to support the process and offer guidance where possible. Once the assessment is complete, your employer should manage any identified risks as if you were working on company premises.
If the risk assessment identifies a risk of eye strain or injury, employers must pay for employees to have an annual eye test. Even if the assessment does not identify a specific risk, your employer must still pay for an eye test if you request one.
If your employer has not informed you of your right to an eye test and you subsequently develop an eye condition, you may have grounds for legal action.
Unlike obvious risks posed by bladed power tools, some risks affecting workers’ eye health can be easily missed. As is the case with work-related hearing loss; the damage can be so gradual that even the employee does not notice it.
It is vital that both employers and employees understand the potential risks to eye safety, and the need to act proactively to protect against eye damage.
Chris Salmon is an occupational health expert and co-founder and Director of Quittance Legal Services. Chris has played key roles in the founding and shaping of a number of legal services brands and is a regular commentator in the legal press.