Eyes on the Road

Business Insights

Most employers are aware that they have a duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other people who might be affected by their business, and that they must do whatever is reasonably practical to achieve this.

Responsible businesses carry out risk assessments on their premises and institute safety measures such as extra training, guards on machines, non-slip floors, and safety lighting. Equipment and machinery is routinely maintained for optimum efficiency and with an eye to the safety of the operator.

We make sure that our vehicles, equipment and machinery all undergo regular health checks, but the fitness of the people who drive for the company whether in their own or a company vehicle, is rarely considered, providing they have an appropriate driving licence

Yet driving is the most dangerous work activity carried out by most people. A third of all collisions involved someone driving for work purposes, which equates to 20 people killed and 220 seriously injured, every week in collisions involving someone who was driving for work.

It is well recognised that eyesight plays a key part in determining whether someone is fit to drive and drivers are legally obliged to meet specific eyesight standards according to the type of vehicle they drive. Car drivers must be able to accurately read a registration plate from 20 metres away but drivers of category C and D vehicles, such as heavy-goods vehicles (HGV) or buses, must meet more stringent requirements.

Although, traditionally, the responsibility for regular eye checks has fallen to the individual, it can no longer be left to the individual alone. The HSE clearly states that health and safety laws apply to all aspects of work activities. Under their duty-of-care obligations, the employer has a responsibility to ensure that employees are fit to drive, whether the employee is driving a company car or their own vehicle, as part of their main working role or just to pop along to the Post Office.

Yet, some 90% of employees who drive for a living say their bosses do not insist they have their eyes tested, according to research. As a consequence, more than half (55%) of these had not had an eye test in the past year, while 17% had not been tested for over five years.

It should be remembered that EU legislation requires employees who drive on company business to have regular sight tests in order to keep their licences. For holders of commercial licences, category C and D, tests are required every five years.

If employers are found to be in breach of their Duty of Care, insurance claims may be invalidated and, even more seriously, the employer could be prosecuted under the Corporate Manslaughter Act for any incident resulting in death.

Because eye sight tends to deteriorate gradually over time, frequently an individual will be unaware that they are less clearsighted than before, which is why it is important that employers take responsibility and institute a regular programme of eye care. The only way to be sure that vision is adequate for driving is having a full eye examination on a regular basis. Testing not only for visual acuity (sight over distance) but also peripheral vision and the ability to switch focus between near and far objects (such as the dashboard controls and the road).

A full eye examination can detect a huge range of ocular conditions, including cataract, glaucoma, retinal detachment, optic neuritis, ocular tumours.

Employers may have thought that they had all their legal obligations covered when it comes to optical care by providing eye tests to staff who habitually use VDUs at work or equipping workers with safety glasses and goggles. It seems, however, that many fail to monitor closely the state of vision of staff undertaking work-related driving.

While the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 stipulate that staff who habitually use display screens can ask their employer to provide and pay for an eye sight test and, where needed, glasses for VDU use, there are no similar provisions for occupational drivers. Those in jobs where there is a risk to their health and safety are also protected by the Personal Protection Equipment at Work Regulations 1992, which specify employers must provide them with personal protective equipment, including eye protection, yet company car drivers’ vision is often overlooked.

Many opticians provide a corporate service for an affordable regular fee, which will ensure that the employer’s legal responsibilities are covered. However if employers do pay for eye tests, they should ensure the test is for the correct purpose, whether for VDU usage and/or driving, as an individual’s prescription will vary depending on the use.