THE effective management of eye health is an important element towards a healthy and safe workplace. Zimbabwe joined the rest of the world in commemorating World Sight Day on October 12 and the theme for this year focuses on the importance of eye care in the workplace.
The aim is to motivate the employers to prioritise and facilitate access to quality eyecare services for employees and for employees to understand and prioritise the importance of eye care in the workplace.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) report on Eye Health and the World of Work, an estimated 13 million people live with a vision impairment that is linked to their work, further an estimated 3,5 million people have eye injuries occurring at the work place every year.
Eye health affects the workers’ vision and influences performance in the labour market. Workers with vision impairment are less likely to be employed as compared to workers without vision impairment.
According to the World Report on Vision (2019), globally 2,2 billion people have a vision impairment or blindness, at least one billion have a vision impairment that can be treated or prevented with cost effective interventions.
As part of the employer efforts to promote the well-being of employees in the workplace, eye health should be prioritised as an important element of the workers wellbeing because it enables employees to realise their full potential and increase productivity.
Digital eye strain is another vision related condition that employees experience in the workplace. Employees spend prolonged periods on laptops, phones and other devices exposing them to sight loss risks and general eye strain.
Even though most employers are aware of their obligations in promoting, health, safety and well-being in the workplace, surprisingly the majority of injuries occur in industries, such as construction, mining and agriculture.
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Some of the causes of eye injuries include chemicals and foreign objects and most of these injuries could be prevented if the worker used the appropriate protective eye wear such as goggles, face shields and safety glasses.
In cases where protective eye wear is provided, some workers believe it is not important. Eye health and mental health are related, if employees cannot see well they cannot work well, leading to decreased productivity, frustrations and depression.
The increasing use of technology has prompted the need to be more conscious about eye health in the workplace. Enforcing guidelines or tips on taking care of your eyes such as avoiding glare or reflections, adjusting brightness or contrast and taking breaks to give rest to the eyes will make a difference.
This may be included in the policy for information, technology and communication, to encompass the training of employees on the safe use of devices and equipment.
Regular eye examination is important to identify potential sight problems and the early detection of eye conditions, such as glaucoma, cataract or diabetic retinopathy.
Taking eye examinations and receiving the necessary support or assistive device, reduces errors, corrections and improves employee productivity.
Where there is high risk, employers should bear the costs and provide the necessary protective eye wear. Even in cases where employees require a pair of reading or corrective spectacles, employers should consider facilitating access to eyecare services and in the event of injury the employer should facilitate curative and rehabilitation services.
Following health and safety regulations set out in the industry is of importance to prevent hazards. Such regulations should be documented and periodically communicated to workers and should take into account prevention, preparedness and response measures.
In addition, the regulations will determine the safety equipment required for work involving physical injury of the eye. It is easy to slack on health and safety issues, especially when one feels it is not important, hence measures should be taken to ensure enforcement of guidelines and policy.
Understanding good eye health knowledge leads to improved eyecare in society. Employers should allocate human, financial resources and equipment to ensure that employees work in an environment that promotes better eye health outcomes, well-being and productivity.
Occupational health and safety programmes in the workplace should educate employees about the importance of protecting their vision and potential hazards that may occur in the workplace while providing adequate protective clothing.
For high-risk tasks, employees should be provided with training prior to the task, ensuring that the teams are competent to deliver with minimum risk.
Employees should be consulted about the options and eye health programmes in the workplace and coordination through the relevant committee is necessary to promote prevention measures, information sharing and training.
Assessing the risk and dangers to vision in the workplace or any discomfort to the eye will enable the employer to put the necessary measures and procedures in place.
This may include identifying visually demanding tasks such as work that requires use of screen-based equipment and visual display units for prolonged periods.
Attention should be given to people with disabilities to ensure they are not left behind in accessing eye care services and benefitting from the training programmes.
During the implementation of policies or initiatives in the work place we may encounter challenges, hence it is important to document in order to monitor and manage occupational hazards.
Even though the employee has the duty of care to ensure that they follow occupational health and safety procedures to avoid exposure to risk.
The employer should take into consideration measures, such as, providing adequate workplace lighting, workplace ergonomics and promoting general awareness.
Health insurance provides employees with the necessary medical care and rehabilitation support when required. In cases where employers have not provided for medical insurance, the cost of accessing eye care services is unaffordable hindering access.
According to the 2030 insight strategy of ending avoidable sight loss, the private sector is a key player that should support the agenda.
More employers should ensure the work environments protect eye health and facilitate the wellbeing of employees.
This calls for the strengthening of global frameworks on workplace health and safety.
It, therefore, becomes necessary to establish synergies between employees, employers and worker organisations to reduce the burden of sight loss in the workplace.
Eye health should be viewed from a development perspective in light of the contribution towards the achievement of the sustainable development goals.
- Tigere is a development practitioner and writes in her personal capacity. These weekly New Horizon articles, published in the Zimbabwe Independent, are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, managing consultant of Zawale Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance & Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe (CGI Zimbabwe). — [email protected] or mobile: +263 772 382 852.