Keep your eyes peeled


Should employers be keeping watch over their employees’ eye health?

When it comes to employee wellbeing, eye health is unlikely to be the first thing that springs to mind. Yet, in this digital age of work many are spending longer and longer staring at screens. 2018 research commissioned by ACUVUE found that the average office worker spent around 1,700 hours per year in front of a computer screen – an average of six and a half hours per day. There is an obvious impact on eyes, so should employers be considering this issue?

 

Alastair Lockwood, an Ophthalmologist at the online contact lenses service Feel Good Contacts, tells HR Grapevine that today’s ‘always on’ office-centric working patterns mean employees strain their eyes for long periods of time. “All that time in front of a bright screen coupled with air conditioning, heating and bright room lighting can have a negative impact on your eyes. In fact, extensive use of computers can lead to computer vision syndrome (CVS), where eyes become dry, tired and even strained,” Lockwood explains.

 

While Lockwood assures that this exposure won’t necessarily cause permanent damage to employees, he says that it can cause distraction and irritation in the short-term – including eye fatigue, eye twitching, red eyes and physical tiredness. This may make it difficult for employees to concentrate and work productively which can ultimately impact the bottom line. “In addition, use of digital screens often limits the amount of time that we blink, therefore denying our eyes the hydration they need to stay moist and healthy. Dry eye syndrome is when our eyes have become dried out, as a result of tear ducts no longer producing adequate natural tears that our eyes need,” he adds.

It appears that the issue of eye health isn’t insubstantial. Research sponsored by Transitions Optical Inc found that a substantial number of employees are regularly affected by at least one visual disturbance at work. In addition, the 2014 Employee Perceptions of Vision Benefits report found almost eight in ten (79%) employees encounter a visual disruption that hurts their eyes at work, with more than half (53%) admitting that they have to take at least one break per day to prevent eye strain from staring at a screen.

 

As a result, Lockwood advises employers to take the lead in caring for their employees’ eye health. He has some simple tips, explaining: “Whilst at your desk, be mindful of how much time you’re spending staring at the screen. Simply looking away from your computer screen for a minute or so every now and again can give your eyes a much-needed break." In addition, Lockwood advises that if staff are able to temporarily relinquish their duties – by taking a break, having a walk, or doing something that doesn’t involve staring at a screen – then it is likely to boost concentration and productivity levels which positively influences the bottom line. “I always follow the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, take a 20 second break and look at something 20 feet away,” he advises.

There are also tips around screen brightness. “If [the screen] is set to the highest setting, turn it down slightly and see if it makes any difference to how your eyes feel. An incredibly bright screen can be very harsh on the eyes, so you can minimise glare by dusting your computer monitor and investing in an anti-reflection cover.” Aside from the screen brightness, Lockwood also urges employers to consider the lighting around the computer monitors and equal the biggest in the office to prevent the glare from lamps on screens as this can be distracting.


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