The ScreenSmart campaign – a charitable initiative designed to provide employers with practical advice and resources to help care for employees’ eye health launched on 4 June 2010. This was after a new study, commissioned by the national sight charity the Eyecare Trust and healthcare provider Simplyhealth, revealed 89 per cent of British businesses are failing to meet their legal obligations to protect their staff’s sight*.

Office workers spend an eye watering 128,740 hours staring at a screen during their working lifetime so it’s probably no surprise 90 per cent say they regularly suffer ‘screen fatigue’ – headaches, sore or tired eyes, impaired colour perception and blurred vision**.

To combat the visual stress associated with prolonged screen use Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations place a legal obligation on ALL employers to care for the eye health of staff who regularly use a VDU (computer screen) at work.

However, the ScreenSmart study found many employers (44%) fail to meet even the most basic element of the legislation such as providing regular sight tests and, one in ten has no eye care policy at all.

The worst offenders are small businesses employing fewer than 10 people. One in five (21%) make absolutely no provision for eye care, only a third (33%) offer to pay for sight tests and just a quarter (25%) say they ensure workstations are designed to minimise glare or reflections – two factors that can trigger screen fatigue and cause visual trauma.

Big businesses also show a worrying disregard for the legislation with almost one in five (18%) failing to pay for regular sight tests and forty per cent (40%) saying they would refuse to make a contribution towards the cost of spectacles required solely for VDU work.

Commenting on the results of the study, James Glover from Simplyhealth said: “Our research suggests that some employers’ failure to safeguard employees’ eye health and comply with the HSE regulations is due to a lack of understanding that this legislation exists. By undertaking the ScreenSmart campaign we hope to raise greater awareness amongst employers about protecting employee eye health and the simple steps they need to take in order to comply with this legislation. One possible solution is to offer employees a cash plan, such as those from Simplyhealth, as these plans provide cover for eye tests and prescription glasses.”

Just 11 per cent of businesses say they meet the six key measures outlined in the legislation*** even though the penalties for failing to comply include improvement notices, prohibition orders, fines and even criminal prosecution.

Iain Anderson, Chairman of the Eyecare Trust says: “The benefits of investing in an eye-friendly culture are far-reaching as good vision can improve productivity, increase job satisfaction and reduce days lost to eye-related sickness. In fact, we estimate work-related eyestrain and vision problems cost UK industry an estimated £1.5Billion a year through absenteeism and reduced productivity.”

To help educate employers about the importance of caring for their employees’ eye health and provide practical solutions to make complying with the legislation simple, quick and easy, the Eyecare Trust and Simplyhealth have teamed up to launch the ScreenSmart campaign.

During the campaign more than 2,500 businesses across the UK will be sent copies of the ScreenSmart employers’ guide.

The FREE pack comprises a handbook with clear guidance on employers’ legal obligations – including advice on who is covered by the regulations and what constitutes ‘regular’ use of a VDU – as well as user-friendly compliance checklists; information on the benefits of being ScreenSmart, posters, eye health advice for employees and an animated film featuring a step-by-step guide to setting up an ergonomic workstation for use on intranet sites and health and safety training workshops.

Any employer who doesn’t receive a guide can download an electronic copy direct from the ScreenSmart website. The site also has a special help facility designed to answer individual employers’ eye health concerns, an online sight test, FAQs and much more.

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