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February 2020
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DSE ' one law fits all

Jim Lythgow, director of strategic alliances at Specsavers Corporate Eyecare, explains the Display Screen Equipment regulations and their implications for public sector organisations:

The 1992 Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations, amended in 2002, are in place to protect all workers who regularly use computer screens. Despite the seemingly straightforward nature of these regulations, there are numerous intricate details regarding funding, qualification and provision.

Specsavers Corporate Eyecare has undertaken research into the eyecare policies implemented by organisations across the public sector. The research represents policies and regulatory interpretations affecting up to 130,000 employees but not one respondent was fully complying with these complex regulations.

Funding failures
At the most basic level, the rules state that all employees who use visual display units (VDUs) must be provided with an eye-test, when requested, and glasses, if required. In a staggering failure to comply with the health and safety regulations, not one of the organisations responding to the research stated that they wholly fund VDU eyecare for the relevant staff.

How to administer the regulations in practise
To help cut the confusion, the legislation can be roughly broken down into the areas below and solutions are available to help organisations meet the requirements easily and cost effectively.

VDUs are no longer limited to traditional PCs on office desks. Hand-held devices and display screens are now used in virtually every occupational role.

The regulations are clear that glasses need only be provided specifically for reading a display screen and only if this would not be possible with the users’ uncorrected vision or glasses already required for general day-to-day use. Employees cannot claim for glasses that are used for any other work-related activity and employers are under no obligation to provide contact lenses, bifocals or varifocals, which are often not considered suitable for VDU use anyway.

The regulations apply to ‘habitual users’ of Display Screen Equipment. With different definitions of a ‘regular’ or ‘habitual’ user, it is probably simpler and safer to assume that all employees who use VDUs are covered by the regulations. In fact, it can take a great deal more time and, therefore, money trying to exclude one person from the cover than to include everyone in a blanket, low-cost scheme.

Despite the exaggerated fears of many employers this is actually a very small proportion of users, usually less then 10%. Depending on the workplace demographics this can often be a lot lower.

It is commonly thought that eye exams must be carried out annually. The regulations actually leave it to the optometrist to decide how often they should take place. For new staff, the eye test must be done before screen work starts.

Staff are entitled to claim eye tests at any time if they feel their eyes have been damaged or strained, or if they have suffered headaches, as a consequence of VDU work. There is, however, provision in the regulations for frivolous requests to be denied.

The regulations give employers the right to nominate a specific optician to carry out the eyecare. However, 62% of public sector organisations leave the choice of optometrist up to the individual member of staff and 72% either allow staff to claim back any eyecare on expenses or have no formal system in place at all (compared to 53% in the private sector). This could prove very expensive as costs for optometrists can vary hugely. This lack of defined policy can also lead to a loss of control over quality and consistency of service and care.

If the employer appoints the optician and enrols all staff with the same eyecare provider – just as they would all sign up to the same medical insurance scheme – the organisation will get the most economical deal.

The Specsavers Corporate Eyecare proposition is based on vouchers, and can provide an eye examination and glasses for £17 per person. With other opticians also offering similar corporate schemes, there is no need to pay more.

Despite this, 14% of public sector employers expect to pay in excess of £100 to provide staff with an eye test and glasses, 47% think it will cost more than £50 and 76%, more than £20. Only 24% correctly believe that corporate eyecare provision is actually possible for less than £20 per person, which is perhaps an indication of just how many public sector employers are paying over the odds.

The survey revealed that over two thirds (67%) of public sector employers only review their eyecare provider every five years or less. Organisations could well be missing out on cost-effective deals or on technological advances: digital retinal cameras are now available at leading optometrists and can make eyecare benefits a much bigger part of overall healthcare by enabling the detection of life-threatening illnesses and medical conditions.

A third (33%) of public sector organisations have over 10,000 employees. This compares to just 16% of private sector organisations with this level of staffing. Having a formal eyecare policy in place would, therefore, seem essential. Voucher schemes for eyecare are not only cost-effective but are administratively simple. The manager just purchases vouchers directly and hands them out to staff as required or requested.

With public sector spending under increasing scrutiny, VDU vouchers offer an appropriate solution. Each VDU voucher gives every employee exactly the same care – a full eye examination on request and spectacles if required for VDU use. The employer is covering the regulatory requirements and ensuring the safety of the eyesight of their staff but costs are kept to an absolute and transparent minimum.

Bigger picture
While the DSE regulations may seem fairly trivial in a wider context, the fact that they apply to such an incredible number of employees within the public sector produces a surprisingly high impact. The cost of spending a few pounds more than necessary on such care will be multiplied to hugely significant sums. The small amount of time taken to fully understand the regulations may be worth a massive saving to the public sector in return. Equally, finding an administratively-friendly option for this sometimes unnecessarily complex issue, can result in big time-savings and considerable peace of mind.

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