Eye strain is an issue affecting a growing number of workers. For many of these workers, it is also impacting their productivity. In one recent study, eight in ten workers reported experiencing some form of eye-strain symptom in their workplace including eye fatigue, headaches, dry eyes and blurred vision. Four in ten employees in the same study confessed that their eye issues were making them less productive. Nearly one third took additional breaks because of it, and another third reported difficulties in focusing while at work.

Causes

Several factors are combining to make eye strain a severe workplace safety issue. Evolution is one of these factors. Our eyes are designed for the distance-oriented jobs of the past. However, we are doing an increasing amount of visual tasks in which the focal point is much closer to our eyes. The prevalence of computers and other screens is compounding the issue. So, too, is the fact that the working population is aging and therefore more susceptible to eye strain.

Eye strain occurs when eye muscles are either overused or held in one position for too long. Muscles become tired. Concentrating on specific tasks that require visual focus will also cause inner eye muscles to tighten and become overly tired.

Symptoms of eye strain can include:

  • Sore or itchy eyes
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Dry or burning eyes
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Eyelid twitching

Digital eye strain, caused by extensive use of a digital device such as a computer, tablet or phone, is the most well-known form of eye strain. However, eye strain isn’t confined to offices. It is also a significant issue in many industries from construction to manufacturing and from mining to long haul trucking. Any job that requires workers to focus their vision for long periods can put them at risk for eye strain, as can several environmental factors.

There are also a variety of physical factors which can lead to eye strain. They can include:

  • Screen glare
  • Blue light from digital screens
  • Incorrect safety glasses
  • Poor industrial lighting that is either too dim or excessively bright
  • Poor posture
  • Dry air

Despite these risks, there are things you can do to help both relieve and reduce eye strain.

Implement a 20-20-20 Rule

Insist on the 20-20-20 rule for your workers tied to a computer screen for most of the work day. Encourage these employees to take a twenty-second rest break, every twenty minutes to look at something that is at least twenty feet away. Post reminders about the 20-20-20 rules in employee break rooms and regular online communication venues.

Encourage your desk workers to take regular eye “rest breaks” every few hours. And, while you are reminding your workers to rest their eyes, remind them to blink. When workers stare at screens for long periods, they frequently forget to blink, which leads to dry eyes and exacerbates eye strain.

Reduce Environmental Factors

There is quite a lot you can do within your work environment to both reduce and relieve eye strain. Most are basic engineering controls that require minimal effort and expense.

  • Assess your lighting for its effect on eye strain and worker safety. Fluorescent lighting, while bright, tends to contribute to both eye strain and blurry vision. Natural light is better, but where that isn’t possible, other, more ergonomic choices, can help you avoid both the dimly lit and overly bright workspaces that lead to eye strain.
  • Provide curtains, blinds or other filters to prevent glare.
  • Paint walls in dark colors to help reduce glare and use matte finishes on walls, floors and furniture.
  • Avoid placing workstations directly in front of heat vents, fans or air conditioners as these can contribute to dry eyes.
  • If your workplace is overly dry, consider installing a humidification system or supply office workers with desktop humidifiers.

Adjust Your Screens

If you haven’t done so already, do an ergonomic assessment of your workplace, paying particular attention to the layout of your desk areas and lighting. Implement changes that will reduce eye strain for your employees:

  • For optimal vision, position computer and other screens directly in front of users, at a distance of 20 to 26 inches (50-65 centimeters) from the eyes.
  • Ensure the angle of view for computer screens is about four or five inches below eye level.
  • Increase the font size to at least several fonts larger than what the user can comfortably see
  • Adjust screen brightness to reduce glare. When this isn’t possible, consider glare filters, which can decrease the amount of light from the screen.
  • Adjust screen brightness on computers and other screens to the same level of brightness as the room. Eyes must work extra hard to read screens that are brighter or dimmer than the work environment.
  • Install devices to reduce the amount of blue light emitting from screens.

Educate Your Workforce

Educating your workers about the causes and effects of eye strain and the preventative measures they can take to reduce it benefits everyone. In addition to education about ergonomic and other controls, encourage workers feeling the effects of eye strain to have their vision checked for other causes and to consider their use of screens while off work. Those with prescription eyewear who work with digital screens may want to consider the addition of a blue light filter to their glasses.

While eye strain can create discomfort and reduce productivity, the good news is that it does not typically lead to any long-term eye damage. A proactive approach to reducing eye strain in the workplace can go a long way toward reducing discomfort and restoring productivity.