Raconteur

Eye Health 2019

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E Y E H E A L T H 4 If you are not mobile we are Free NHS-funded home eye tests available ©2019. Our home-visiting opticians are equipped with a testing kit specifically designed for use away from our stores. So we can visit people who cannot come to a store due to a physical or mental illness, in their home or care home, and provide the same high quality service you'd expect in store. To find out if you're eligible visit specsavers.co.uk/home-eye-tests To book an appointment call 0800 198 1138 Commercial feature Making eye health a duty of care Employers have a duty of care to ensure their staff are looked after, so why is eye health often the lowest priority? espite the pervasive use of digital devices and increasing screen time both in the workplace and at home, provision of free eye tests for employees is not as common as you might hope. Over the last five years or so, health and wellbeing has risen steadily up the executive agenda due to a growing awareness that fit and happy staff demonstrate higher levels of engagement and productivity. But while providing them with everything from gym membership to mindfulness classes has become de rigueur, employee eyecare is all too often overlooked, particu- larly in the private sector. In the public sector, on the other hand, health and safety personnel are starting to take much more interest, due to the potential for employee claims if it can be proven that existing work patterns, which include exces- sive screen time, are having a detrimental impact, explains Kevin Rogers, chief execu- tive of health insurance provider Paycare. Such fears are making themselves felt even though the UK's Health and Safety Executive (HSE) attests that working at a computer screen neither causes permanent damage to eyes or eyesight nor makes existing defects worse. What the HSE does acknowledge, however, is that long spells in front of a screen are vis- ually demanding and can lead to computer vision syndrome, which includes tired, red eyes, temporary short-sightedness and head- aches. It can also make individuals aware of eyesight problems that may have previously slipped their notice. There is currently no standard definition in UK law of what constitutes excessive screen time, not least because the impact depends on variables, such as age, health and gender. But the issue is undoubtedly compounded by additional heavy screen use outside work, with some studies indicating the light from screens can even have a negative impact on sleep patterns. Cath Everett D W O R K P L A C E Another significant problem is dry eyes, says Ali Mearza, director and founding part- ner at eyecare centre Ophthalmic Consult- ants of London. While people naturally blink 15 to 20 times a minute, when focusing on a screen, this figure drops to between one and three times a minute, which leads to eyes becoming irritated. But eye problems also tend to be more marked among the increasing number of workers over the age of 40. Presbyopia is more common in older workers, for example, as the muscles of the eye weaken and lenses get stiffer, often leading to blurry near-vision as well as eye strain and headaches. "This affects people's concentration and general efficiency, but providing ideally annual eye tests for employees and a prescrip - tion for reading glasses can rectify the situa- tion quite easily," Mr Mearza advises. For preventative healthcare reasons, he also recommends eye checks if individuals expe- rience recurrent headaches as they could be a symptom of more serious conditions, such as type-2 diabetes. But it is not just eye health that is affected by excessive screen time. Poor posture over prolonged periods can lead to a range of mus- culoskeletal issues, including neck and back strain, which are the second most common cause of sickness absence behind stress and mental health considerations in the UK. Emma Bartlett, partner at law firm Charles Russell Speechlys, says 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. In terms of eyecare, employers are also required to pay for eye tests for employees every two years, if requested, and for special glasses if an individual's usual prescription does not enable them to view the screen at its normal distance. But beyond these basic requirements, there are other simple steps employers can take to support better employee eyecare. For exam - ple, following the 20-20-20 rule – every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away – allows eye mus- cles temporarily to relax from having to focus intently, which guards against fatigue. Toning down the brightness of computer screens can help. But encouraging staff to take regular five to ten-minute tea breaks away from their screen every hour or so can staff eye health scheme can improve productivity, reduce absenteeism, promote well- being across a company and translate into balance-sheet benefits, which are particularly welcome in tough trading conditions. But, according to studies by Specsavers, around one third of employ- ers offer no eye testing for staff even though 89 per cent of their workers are classed as screen users, who might need and benefit from wearing glasses. "It is a requirement to offer eye tests to staff and it makes economic sense as it leads to better produc- tivity, retention and loyalty," says Jim Lythgow, director of strategic alliances at Specsavers Corporate Eyecare. "Employees who are struggling with their eyes could find their per- formance at work suffering, and that can be hugely frustrating for them and detrimental to the business. "Many employers are missing a trick by not providing eyecare. They may well be flouting health and safety rules, and their employees will not be receiving the many associated health and wellbeing advantages that come with an eye test." Employers are required by law to arrange for eye tests for users of dis- play-screen equipment that request one and must provide spectacles if they are prescribed for screen use. Work tasks are now dominated by computer, tablet and smartphone use across many professions. "You would struggle to find a pro- fession that doesn't involve spending less than an hour or two on a screen, which is the level the Health and Safety Executive sets for employers to moni- tor," adds Mr Lythgow. "Employers' awareness of their responsibilities is lower than it should be at a time when, with an ageing pop- ulation and an ageing work population, that responsibility is even higher. "Eyecare can support productivity as it helps with more minor ailments like migraines, tired eyes and headaches, all of which can reduce an employee's effi- ciency. But an eye test can also pick up the early symptoms of a number of conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, high blood pressure and even tumours." Employers also have responsibility for helping maintain the eyesight of any staff members who drive as part of their jobs. The amount of time spent on the roads is increasing with the Department for Transport recording 324 billion vehicle miles in 2016-17, an increase of 20 per cent of the previous five years and a jump of 70 per cent from 1997. Taxis and cars account for 253 billion miles, up 1.5 per cent over the last three years. "More and more trade is on the road now, particularly with home deliv- ery, so employers have a duty of care to their staff and to other road users to look after their drivers' eyesight," says Mr Lythgow. "Specsavers provides more than 500,000 employee eye tests every year through its Corporate Eyecare scheme, and the benefits for the employee and the company are always positive." Specsavers operates an efficient and cost-effective pre-paid voucher scheme for companies so their staff can get a convenient eye test at one of the company's 750-plus stores and get their prescription swiftly. The company, which carries out ten million sight tests in the UK every year, has invested heavily in technology so eye tests pick up sight issues and alert for more insidious and often asympto- matic eye conditions. Problems such as glaucoma and diabetic retinopa- thy, which can cause blindness, can be treated if diagnosed early, so staff can retain their jobs and remain productive. Recent Specsavers' research reported that only 52 per cent of com- panies and organisations provided eye- care at work. More than 25 per cent of employers surveyed said they offered eyecare to improve productivity, while a significant 24 per cent provided eye tests to reduce absence. "We have seen a great increase in employers' understanding of eyecare as a valued benefit in itself and as part of a bigger picture of preventative health solutions," says Mr Lythgow. "We are working to help make the most of this trend into as many businesses and organisations as possible by making employers and employees aware of the much wider benefits of eyecare, such as the detection of serious health con- ditions, glaucoma or symptoms of car- diovascular disease. "Eyecare is essential to health and wellbeing, and we are delighted that so many employers are taking this enlightened view. "For relatively little cost, you can protect employee eyesight. It will pro- mote loyalty and can only benefit your bottom line." For more information please visit specsavers.co.uk Investing in the workforce Britain's workplace productivity can be boosted by the adoption of regular eye tests, research has shown Commercial feature A WHY DO YOU OFFER E YECARE? Many employers are missing a trick by not providing eyecare To aid health and wellbeing 42% To meet with health and safety regulations As an employee benefit To ensure adequate eyesight for the employee's working role To improve productivity (as it helps with migraines, tired eyes, headaches, etc) To reduce absence, as it can aid the early detection of certain illnesses and conditions It reflects well on us as an employer To increase employee engagement and loyalty To increase morale To aid recruitment and retention of staff 39% 38% 33% 25% 24% 23% 23% 19% 17% of optometrists have seen a patient in the last month who carried on driving despite being told to stop Association of Optometrists 2017 44% 6.5 36% hours a day spent in front of computer screen by average office worker have to squint regularly to see text on computer screen Acuvue 2018 48% of office workers who don't take regular breaks suffer from eye dryness or soreness arguably be most beneficial. Doing so will not only help guard against eye problems, but also ensure employees gain some of the health benefits associated with movement and regular exercise. For many organisations though, ensuring such health and wellbeing initiatives are taken seriously requires education, aware- ness-raising activities and sponsorship from the top. Otherwise, says Mr Rogers: "Middle manag- ers won't feel encouraged to take action, par- ticularly when they're under pressure to deal with day-to-day business matters. Cultural change of this nature requires executives to lead by example as well as ensure there's fol- low-up to see who's doing it, what the benefits are and so on." And this kind of proactive preventa- tive maintenance programme can reap big rewards. "Many organisations take their peo- ple for granted and continue to talk about low productivity while not taking their health and wellbeing seriously. But there's a direct link between the two, so it's about taking both ownership of this and positive action," Mr Rogers concludes.

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