What are your employer’s legal obligations for eye safety?

Chris Salmon, co-founder and Director of occupational injury specialists Quittance Legal Services, considers the duty of care employers have regarding eyecare in the workplace

In 2019, Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR) statistics showed that 133 UK workers suffered permanent loss of sight or reduction of sight in one or both eyes.

The RIDDOR statistics understate the level of eye injury in the workplace. An eye injury is only reportable under the regulations if a doctor or ophthalmologist diagnoses that the effects are likely to be permanent.

Every year thousands of people experience less serious eye injuries at work, including scratched corneas, iris inflammation and foreign body penetration.

What are your employer’s legal obligations?

Under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, your employer has a legal duty of care for your health, safety and wellbeing at work.

The HSE states that employers are responsible for “making sure that workers and others are protected from anything that may cause harm, effectively controlling any risks to injury or health that could arise in the workplace.”

In practice, your employer should provide you with:

  • A safe working environment
  • Sufficient training to ensure that you can safely carry out your role
  • Appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as eye and face protection
  • Regular risk assessments of your working environment
  • Free annual eye tests

Employers are responsible for homeworkers

At the time of writing, many employees are still working from home as a result of continuing COVID-19 social distancing measures.

Many employers will be surprised to learn that their duty of care to provide a safe working environment extends to homeworkers.

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, your employer must “make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety of employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work”.

Your employer should carry out a risk assessment of your homeworking environment.

The risk assessment will need to confirm the safety and suitability of your desk, chair, lighting, computer, monitor, mouse, keyboard and any other equipment.

Chris Salmon, an occupational health expert at Quittance Legal Services said, “unless there are extenuating circumstances, your employer can ask you to complete a self-assessment in the form of a questionnaire. Your employer should offer guidance where required.”

“Any equipment supplied by your employer, such as computers, monitors, laptops and other digital devices, should be safe and fit for purpose.”

“Where a risk of eye injury has been identified, employers are obliged to pay for employees to have an annual eye test with a qualified optometrist. If your employer has not made you aware of this, and you develop an eye condition, you may have grounds for a legal claim.”

PPE

Wherever there is a risk of eye injury or eyestrain, your employer must, by law, provide you with appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to enable you to do your job safely.

The PPE must be readily available and you must receive full training in the correct use of the PPE.

The regulations define three categories of PPE; simple, intermediate and complex.

Simple

PPE in this category is designed to protect users against minimal risks. Examples include sunglasses and blue light filter glasses.

Intermediate

Most situations where eye safety is an issue will require Intermediate category PPE. This category covers all cases that are not ‘simple’ or that require specialist ‘complex’ PPE.

Examples of intermediate PPE include welding helmets and standard safety goggles.

Safety glasses must be a wraparound design or have side shields. If there is a risk of splashes to the eyes, you should be provided with chemical splash goggles. If chemical splashes risk injury to the skin, a full face mask should be used.

You may work with power tools, such as angle grinders, and be exposed to flying debris. In this case, you should be given impact goggles by your employer.

Complex

Where there is a very serious risk of eye injury under complex circumstances, eye protection must be certified by the relevant accredited body.

If you work with lasers, for example, you should be given safety glasses with specialist lenses offering protection against the laser wavelengths you could be exposed to.

Computer users

Although the risk of eye injury to computer users is not as immediately dramatic as with some jobs, prolonged exposure over time can lead to eye problems. The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 exist to protect workers from the health risks associated with display screen usage.

Digital Eye Strain is a term used to describe a range of symptoms experienced by people after prolonged screen usage. Symptoms include double vision, eyestrain and headaches.

Employers should carry out a suitable workstation assessment and supply a suitable flicker-free monitor with anti-glare coating or filter if necessary. The monitor should be positioned to minimise reflections from external light sources, such as windows or fluorescent lighting.

The employer should also offer support in the configuration of your monitor to ensure that it is set to the optimal resolution, contrast and font size – all of which can help reduce eyestrain.