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What can companies do to safeguard workers’ eye safety?

21st July 2020

Prevent Blindness, a leading charity focused on eye safety, preventing blindness and preserving eyesight, recently 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.

Duty of Care

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 whilst you are working.

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.

Your employer must:

  • Carry out a detailed risk assessment of safety risks
  • Where possible remove or mitigate risks
  • Explain the risks and provide suitable training
  • Provide the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • Carry out periodic risk reviews, including risk consultations with employees or unions

Protecting Your Eyes – Risk Assessments

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.

PPE

Where there is risk of eye injury or strain, your employer must, by law, provide you with 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 a very serious risk of eye injury under complex circumstances, any eye protection must be certified for the specific purpose.

If you work with lasers, for example, you must be provided with specialist lenses that offer protection against the laser wavelengths you could be exposed to.

You must receive training in how to correctly use the PPE.

If you feel that you need PPE, even if the risk assessment does not require it, your employer must comply with reasonable requests to supply it to you.

Working Safely With Display Screen Equipment (DSE)

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 used to 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 Also Responsible for Homeworkers

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 will need to ensure your home working environment is risk-assessed.

In most cases, especially in light of COVID-19 considerations, 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 has been completed, your employer should manage any identified risks as if you were working on the company premises.

Eye Tests

If the risk assessment identifies a risk of eye strain or injury, employers are obliged to 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.

Conclusion

Unlike the obvious risks posed by bladed power tools or heavy plant, 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 range of 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 ServicesChris 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.

Contact LaserVision for more information on eye safety and protect your vision with expert advice from our specialist team.

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