What are the health risks of working with screens?

Office-based work typically involves using screens regularly throughout the working day. Several health risks are associated with display screen work, not least because it's sedentary. Working at a desk can lead to poor posture, causing neck, shoulder and back pain. Using a keyboard can also cause issues in the arms and hands.

However, eye problems are the most obvious potential hazard. Focusing on a computer screen can mean workers blink less frequently, leading to dryness and irritation. Employees can also experience eye strain due to staring at a screen for long periods. The layout of their workstation and the surrounding environment also contribute to eye strain. Sitting too close or far away means your eyes must work harder to focus. Low lighting contrasted with a bright screen can also be an issue.

An employee could work with a computer throughout the day and will likely spend time in their personal life watching TV or looking at social media on their phone. Whilst you can't control what an employee does in their spare time, you can take steps to protect their eyesight at work.

How can your business help workers protect their eyesight?

A business is legally obligated to protect employee health and safety with appropriate assessments, identifying risks, safety measures and procedures. The Display Screen Equipment Regulations set out your duties, which include carrying out a display screen equipment workstation assessment and acting on any risks it identifies, paying for an eye test if requested and providing suitable training. Assessments should also be person-specific. For example, there will likely be different risks depending on an employee's age or for someone with an existing eye condition.

Reducing risks may mean adjusting an employee's workstation to ensure their chair is at the right height in relation to their screen. If an employee needs glasses for screen work after an eye test, you should fund these. Training could include sharing details of the procedures you create to minimise health risks.

Your legal duty applies to all staff, not just those who only work in your office. More employees now work remotely. While your duty likely won't extend to visiting every employee's home, suitable training and information can enable them to assess and adjust their home office.

Risk assessments

A thorough risk assessment is an ongoing task. Your preliminary assessment may help you identify a potential hazard and an appropriate control measure. However, you should also adjust your assessment as new information becomes available. For example, you may find that a safety measure is ineffective or impractical. Listening to positive and negative feedback from your team helps you introduce the proper safety measures but can also improve employee engagement and help your workforce feel valued.

Your assessment must look at several factors. The screen needs to be at the right height, ideally with the top of the screen at the same height as an employee's eye line, and adjusted so they can face it straight on and not at an angle. Too much contrast between the screen's brightness and the surrounding area can cause eye strain. To avoid this, you should ensure that the area around their screen is well-lit. Finally, check that the screen is positioned to prevent dazzle from reflected light. This can result from natural light coming through nearby windows or artificial light within the office.

You can get guidance on display screen equipment assessments from the HSE.

Encourage regular breaks

Regular breaks are essential to your employees' overall well-being and can help them be more focused and increase productivity. Taking a break can also help employees avoid eye strain. While no legal regulations state how often an employee should take a break from display screen work, the RNIB suggests following the 20:20:20 rule. The rule advises taking a short break every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This approach gives employees' eyes regular rest and doesn't involve leaving their desks.

However, longer breaks are also vital to employee well-being. There are a couple of different ways to approach this. Firstly, consider whether an employee's work creates natural breaks throughout the day. For example, they may spend some time working with a screen but then leave to go to a meeting or carry out an administrative task that doesn't involve a screen. Consider whether different tasks allow employees to move around or change positions. If not, create a strategy to ensure employees have regular breaks from screen work.

Secondly, create a company culture that makes breaks essential to the working day. Employees who see leaders and managers taking breaks are more likely to follow suit.

Provide eye tests

As we've mentioned, your legal obligations mean you must provide an eye test for employees using display screen equipment if they ask and glasses if their prescription states they're only needed for screen work. Technically, you don't have to pay if a general prescription is suitable. We'd recommend going further by ensuring all employees are aware that they can request an eye test from you.

You can set up an account with a specific optician to carry out employee examinations and invoice you directly. Alternatively, you can allow employees to arrange their eye tests and reimburse them for the cost.

Demonstrating that your company takes employees' eye health and overall well-being seriously shows your teams that you value them beyond the workplace. It can improve employee engagement and retention, which benefits your company in the broader sense.


We've discussed how training can help employees understand the processes and procedures created as a result of your display screen equipment assessments. Regular reminders can help the message sink in, and you must carry out training sessions to reinforce safe working procedures if problems arise. Training can be a structured course in-house or with an external company, or informal office talks.

Your company culture influences whether an employee feels able to offer feedback or raise issues if they have concerns or experience any problems with their vision. Offering training explaining the assessment process empowers employees to identify concerns. They can potentially remedy problems themselves, for example, by adjusting their chair height or rearranging their desk. However, you should still carry out regular checks and ensure employees have open lines of communication to report changes or issues. Training also gives staff who work from home the tools to assess risks in their home office.

Training sessions focused on well-being can also encourage employees to look after their health. While you must protect their health at work, training can enable them to consider the impact of screen use in their personal life. This can form part of a broader well-being strategy to improve employee engagement and productivity and reduce sickness absence.

woman at the optician having her eyes tested

How optical insurance can help

If you already provide health insurance as an employee benefit, you'll be well aware of the benefits. Health coverage is a highly valued benefit which allows your teams to access high-quality private healthcare when needed. If you have yet to invest in employee health insurance or if your current policy doesn't include optical coverage, it's worth considering.

Optical cover enables you to meet your legal duty to provide eye tests for employees working with screens and glasses where appropriate. However, it also allows you to go further and offer employees eye tests, glasses and contact lenses regardless of the reason. Some employees may be eligible for free eye tests via the NHS depending on their age, medical history or if they receive certain benefits. Otherwise, they'll need to pay, so providing optical cover could save them money.

Alternatively, if funds are currently tight due to the cost of living crisis, they may skip their eye test altogether. Knowing it's already paid for can encourage them to book their routine check-up. Eye tests can identify the early signs of other health issues and enable quick treatment, protecting your employees' health and reducing sickness absence.

How does optical cover work?

If you already pay for a group health insurance policy to cover your entire workforce, you can pay an additional premium to add optical coverage to your policy. Alternatively, you can add a cash plan to your existing insurance or buy a standalone plan.

Optical coverage works in the same way as other health insurance policies. Your employees can claim for eye tests, treatment, glasses or contact lenses over the phone, online or via an app, depending on your chosen provider and the claims process they offer. Your policy will have financial limits, setting the amount the policy pays for each type of treatment during each calendar year.

Cash plans pay cashback for routine healthcare expenses. Your employees arrange their appointments, pay their treatment expenses, and then claim for reimbursement. Standalone cash plans offer different coverage levels with increasing financial limits depending on your chosen plan. When you add a cash plan to your health insurance, you'll typically be offered one standard plan with set limits.

What does optical insurance cover?

Adding optical coverage as part of your health insurance typically provides your employees with regular eye tests, glasses and contact lenses. You'll often find optical coverage comes in a packaged plan along with dental care, including check-ups, hygienist appointments, and routine and emergency treatment. Some providers also add hearing coverage for tests and hearing aids, but this is less common.

You'll typically find a single annual financial limit for everything your optical insurance covers, usually in the region of £150 to £250. However, check to see what your policy covers, as some providers don't pay for the test itself and only cover the cost of glasses and contact lenses once your optician has prescribed them. Policies typically only pay for glasses and contact lenses if your employee needs them for the first time or if their prescription has changed since their last eye test, meaning you won't pay for them to make a new fashion statement.

Optical insurance lets your employees access eye care without worrying about their cash flow, as the fees are already covered. If you choose a cash plan, they must pay for their care upfront and claim it back. Cash plans cover the same things as optical coverage on your health insurance, but some pay cash back on other items, such as prescription sunglasses, prescription sports goggles, and laser eye surgery. One of the main advantages of cash plans is that they're a valuable benefit but are generally cheaper than health insurance, making them more affordable.

What exclusions apply to optical insurance?

Health insurance policies have standard exclusions that apply to all your employees and others based on their medical history. Health insurance tends to exclude treatments that are a lifestyle choice rather than a medical need, meaning laser eye surgery is often excluded from optical cover.

Policies also exclude pre-existing conditions that your employee sought advice or treatment for during the five years before they joined the policy. Chronic conditions such as glaucoma that can be managed but not cured are also excluded. Some insurers cover eye tests even if your employee has a chronic condition or had eye problems in the past. However, your policy may not cover glasses if they're only needed because of a pre-existing condition.

Cash plans typically don't have specific exclusions but often have a qualifying period before you can claim. Sovereign Health's cash plan has a 12-month exclusion period for optical claims if your employee has had eye surgery.

Get in touch

Globacare is a regulated broker providing tailored advice to help your business find the right health insurance for your team. Contact us today for a comparison quote.

Kingsley Agbo
Senior Broker

Kingsley Agbo

Kingsley has over a decade's experience in health, group life insurance and relevant life insurance. He's a talented broker with a passion for his work and for supporting his clients.

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