An introduction to eye care at work
Although extensive research by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has found no evidence that computer monitors cause eye diseases or permanent damage, it is still known and accepted that using display screen equipment for many hours can cause discomfort and eye strain.
Computer vision syndrome
Computer vision syndrome is a common condition among frequent monitor users, with symptoms ranging from tired eyes to blurry vision. Other symptoms of computer vision syndrome are difficulty focussing on distant objects, headaches, dry eyes and eye strain.
If you experience any of these symptoms you should visit an optician for an eye test, to rule out anything more serious.
Taking care of your eyes
If working with computer displays is a significant part of your working life then you should minimise the risks of prolonged use by taking regular breaks. Short but frequent breaks are best.
It’s also helpful to change the type of work you are doing – especially if you can change to a type of work that does not involve looking at computer monitors.
Your employer must let you take regular breaks or regular changes in activity.
What is display screen equipment (DSE)?
Display screen equipment includes computer monitors or displays that are used to display information. Computer monitors are often referred to as visual display units (VDUs) in health and safety terminology. Microfiche readers and control screens are also display equipment.
Free eye tests – what you are entitled to
If it is essential that you spend some of your working days using a display screen (or are due to start using a screen) then you are entitled to an eye test paid for by your employer.
While your employer may suggest their preferred optician, if you have special requirements and need to see a specialist, your employer is obliged to make a reasonable payment towards the cost.
Help with the cost of glasses
If an eye test shows that you need to wear glasses when using a visual display then your employer is obliged to pay for your glasses.
Even if you need glasses for other work activities your UNISON rep may be able to help you get financial support towards the cost of glasses.
Next steps for UNISON reps
Raise awareness of risks associated with display screen use: Regular breaks or changes in activity are usually enough to avoid eye problems – so encourage workers to take breaks from their screens and spend time doing something different.
Negotiate for better payments for glasses: Employers should either pay for, or contribute towards the costs of glasses for employees who need them for using display screen. You can help workers get a reasonable amount to help pay for glasses.
Know the law: Make sure that your members know about their right to an eye and eyesight test as employees must request the test. There is no requirement for employers to provide them automatically
- Your employer is obliged to create a safe working environment for you and minimise the risks of using display screens.
- If you use display screens as part of your work you may be entitled to a free eye test.
- Long term use of display screens does not cause serious harm or disease but may be a cause of eye strain.
- Regular breaks and changes of task are the best way to keep your eyes healthy.
Do I have to take an eye test?
No. Your employer does not have to routinely offer eye tests to all employees, but if you are a regular user of visual displays and need an eye test then they must pay for it. If you do not want an eye test (for whatever reason) you are not obliged to have one.
How often should my eyes be tested?
Your optician or doctor will be able to advise on the frequency of your tests as this will vary between individuals.
Should my employer pay for my glasses?
If you discover that you need glasses in order to continue working with visual displays, and this is an integral part of your work, then your employer is obliged to pay for your glasses.
In some cases your employer may also contribute towards the cost of glasses, even when glasses are required to perform other work tasks. Check with your UNISON rep to find out what is available to you.