Isaac Newton was a physicist who thought that, by staring up at the sun, he could better understand how the universe worked. Fortunately, he was not hired by any organisation to undertake such damaging research: this sun-staring routine was his decision entirely. However, research suggests that employers and organisations are regularly subjecting their employees to as much daily eyestrain as poor old Newton.
Poor lighting, the glare of visual display units, and a lack of regular breaks from the computer have combined to produce more business for opticians than any amount of witty advertisements ever could. The HSE recommends that, because modern work is so heavily reliant upon computers, employees should have short, regular breaks from daily work on a display screen.
Damage to vision in the workplace is a very real hazard. When staring at screens for hours on end, our tear ducts produce insufficient moisture to lubricate our eyes. The resultant ‘dry eye’ can cause grittiness, vision blur, and stinging [http://www.sciencealert.com/staring-at-a-computer-screen-all-day-can-damage-your-eyes].
Moreover, the blue violet light emitted by the screens of smart phones, tablets, and desktop computers is potentially toxic to the back of your eyes, that projector screen where images and perceptions are resolved and understood. Over the long run, blue violet light can contribute to macular degeneration – the leading cause of blindness in adults [http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/26780069/smartphone-overuse-may-damage-eyes-say-opticians]. In this sense, staring at screens is not so very different from staring directly at the sun.
Vision problems in the workplace can also have knock-on health-and-safety effects, since where employees are visually-impaired they are less able to assess risks and to perceive hazards. This can increase the incidence of tripping over wires, knocking over cups, and even falling down stairs.
Avoiding these hazards can be as simple as installing effective signage to warn employees of both the risks imposed by visual display units, and of HSE guidelines. The HSE itself suggests that the best way of tackling the problem is to give employees control over how and when they take their breaks from screen-based work. In these cases, bright, colourful, and clearly-phrased reminders can be crucial.
Other solutions can involve more constant office lighting that does not flicker and is not unpleasantly bright. Humidifiers can work wonders in the reduction of dry eye, and software to reduce glare on computer screens is readily downloadable for both Windows and Apple operating systems.
Since the HSE also recommends regular visual exercises, an effective form of sign could contain simple instructions for blinking, stretching, and focusing the eyes upon distant objects. One of these objects could be a bright sign or coloured sticker fixed to the other side of the office.