Employers need to consider employee use of smartphones in their DSE policies

New research, new thinking

Research* conducted by Specsavers Corporate Eyecare has shown the extent of smartphone use in everyday working roles:

  • 23% of employers said ALL their employees use smart phones as part of their working role
  • 60% of employers said that at least half of their employees use smart phones as part of their working role
  • Just 7% of employers said none of their employees use smart phones as part of their working role

As working patterns change, and smart phones and handheld devices are increasingly used for a wide range of purposes, often to conduct everyday work, Specsavers Corporate Eyecare suggests that employers ensure their eyecare-at-work policies reflect that change.

It is clear, and widely understood, that all employees classed as ‘screen users’ must be provided with an eye and eyesight test**. However, the details as to who counts as a ‘screen user’ are complex, involving length and frequency of use; and many employers have wondered if this applies to smart phones.

Jim Lythgow, director of strategic alliances for Specsavers Corporate Eyecare, said: ‘The reason the DSE regulations do not refer directly to smart phones is almost certainly down to the simple fact that they were not in wide use when the regulations were last amended in 2002. The regulations do, however, only exclude portable DSE that is not in prolonged use (reg 1.4.d.). So, it is the length of time employees are using screens that is more relevant than the type or size of screens they use.’

Although smart phone technology is not specifically covered by the DSE Regulations, HSE guidance states that “portable DSE and handheld devices are subject to the Regulations if in prolonged use for work purposes.”

While there are no hard-and-fast rules on what constitutes ‘prolonged’ use, it is reasonable to conclude that portable equipment that is habitually in use by an employee for a significant part of his or her normal work, could well be regarded as covered by the DSE Regulations. This may relate to frequency of use, employees needing to apply high levels of attention and concentration to the DSE task, being highly dependent on DSE, or have little choice about using it.

In summary, Specsavers recommends employers take a common-sense approach. Smart phones are now generally accepted as a common work tool in many working environments, with increasing numbers of employees using them in their everyday working role. At the very least, employers should consider the use of smart devices when compiling their eyecare-at-work policies. Ensuring staff who use smart phones, as well as those who use more traditional computer screens, are provided with regular eyecare is a simple case of looking after the wellbeing of employees.

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* Research undertaken by YouGov on behalf of Specsavers Corporate Eyecare in Q1 2017, with 502 employers surveyed.
** Covered under the ‘Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 as amended by the Health and Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2002’