Combating eye strain in the workplace: eye-opening stats

Many employers are turning a blind eye to eyes in the workplace and Australia’s leading optometrists are warning employers that they could be losing thousands from decreased productivity, with employees suffering from dry eyes, eye strain and Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS).

computerIn the new multi-screen world, surprising new survey results from PersonalEYES has revealed that one in two (50%) Australian adults have reduced their TV, computer, tablet or smartphone use in the last 12 months to improve their vision, and more than half (55%) believe watching TV or using iPads, laptops or PCs for a couple of hours every day is harmful to their sight. Those in their 20s and 30s the most conscious about making healthy personal tech decisions, reducing screen time more than any other group (64% and 65% respectively).

PersonalEYES, Australia’s leading network of eye clinics, estimates that 4.8 million Australians suffer from dry eyes, and in the workplace, one in five Australians suffer from this condition.

Staring at digital devices for extended periods is now one of the most common causes of eye strain, and results in uncomfortable symptoms such as dry or irritated eyes, difficulty focussing and blurred or double vision.

Dean Powrie, CEO and Director of PersonalEYES says, “Australians’ now spend more time connected to a screen than they do sleeping so it’s more important than ever to be mindful of screen time and eyes because it directly affects performance in the workplace. We estimate one in three could be suffering from CVS, which can develop in those spending more than three hours a day in front of screens.”

Blue light-emitting screens are most known to have detrimental effects on sleep but CVS is another major concern.

“Many hand-held devices now have adjustable settings to reduce the amount emitted but for those who don’t have that option, and sit in front of a computer monitor daily, glasses with anti-reflective and slightly tinted lenses are a great option and can be provided by most optometrists,” says Mr Powrie.

PersonalEYES suggests the following seven tips for HR departments to ensure happy, healthy employees, and reduce the amount of complaints about eye issues:

  1. Check position of computer monitors. Ensure employees have their desks set up with their screen slightly below eye level, and that they are between 50-100 cm from the employee’s eyes. If your organisation is reliant on document transcribing, or employees are constantly referring to documents on their desk and then going back to their screen, it’s a good idea to consider a vertical document holder that can be attached to the computer screen to ensure documents are at eye level.
  2. Set default text size and monitor brightness levels. Talk to your IT department about enlarging text size on your organisation’s computers as standard; some employees may not know this can be done, or know how to do it. The brightness and contrast levels on employee computers should be adjusted according to office lighting levels of 300-500 lux and you should assess workplace lighting to make sure employees aren’t affected by glare, as this will contribute to eye strain.
  3. Assess workspace lighting and have some anti-glare screen filters on hand. Employers should be mindful of light sources in the workplace to ensure the amount of glare is as little as it can possibly be. It’s not just about assessing direct sources of light but more about assessing each individual workspace. Employees must not have bright light in their field of vision when in their workspace, and similarly, they must not have any bright light behind them that could bounce onto the computer monitor. If all steps are taken to minimise glare and the problem still persists, an anti-glare screen filter could be the answer, and they have come a long way since the micromesh ones from the 90s and 00s. The best ones available on the market today are made from optical glass of the highest quality and can reduce glare by more than 99 per cent. Furthermore, you could also look for low-reflective or matte screens when purchasing new monitors.
  4. Encourage employees to take screen breaks. Some businesses are heavily reliant on computer time, and while you don’t want employees congregating for eye breaks, you should be encouraging them to look away from their screens for two-three minutes every 30 minutes and a 10-15 minute break every two-three hours. We recommend the 20-20-10 rule to minimise vision deterioration; give your eyes a break from the screen every 20 minutes for at least 20 seconds by looking at something 10 metres away.
  5. Reminder poster on the notice board. A poster on the notice board or around the water cooler means you’re doing your due diligence in reminding employees about the 20-20-10 rule and taking eye breaks to avoid eye strain and CVS.
  6. Encourage your employees to use eye drops. Anyone sitting behind a computer screen for more than three hours should be making sure their eyes are lubricated. When you’re looking at a screen, you tend to blink much less frequently, which means your eyes are less lubricated and could become irritated. Many people with watery eyes actually have dry eye syndrome and dismiss the use of eye drops since they feel their eyes are lubricated. It’s best that employees don’t share eye drops to avoid the spread of an infection or conjunctivitis, and we recommend avoiding drops in a reusable bottle, instead opting for single-use, preservative-free lubricating eye drops.
  7. Watch use of air conditioner and heaters. Air conditioners and heaters can dry out the air, and dry eye sufferers could experience worsened symptoms as a result. If your organisation requires constant use of this, a humidifier with a HEPA filter could be a good investment, since it hydrates the air and kills bacteria, improving the climate for employees.