Employee Benefits - compulsory eye tests

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This year, new EU legislation will be introduced making regular sight tests compulsory for any employee who drives while on company business. Jill Davies investigates who will fund the cost.

At present, there is no legal obligation for employers to ensure drivers comply with minimum sight requirements.

With the exception of HGV and passenger transport vehicle drivers, once a person has passed the mandatory driving test sight assessment, they are not required to prove the fitness of their eyesight again during their working lives.

However, in 2011 this is set to change. New EU legislation is due to be introduced, making it mandatory for all employees who drive as part of their job to have their eyes tested regularly in order to keep their licence.

Today's difficult economic climate means that many companies are already struggling to make ends meet, so employers will no doubt be questioning who will fund the sight tests, the company or the driver?

With research by Specsavers Corporate Eyecare finding that 60% of employers do not have a policy in place to test the eyesight of their employees, how will these new regulations be implemented and what will it mean for the nation's businesses?

Practically speaking, it does not really matter who pays, as long as the requirements are met. But as eye tests become a mandatory job requirement for drivers and an essential part of operating a business in compliance with health and safety regulations, many employees will be expecting their employer to fund the cost.

The current requirements mean that holders of private licences (such as bikes, cars and most vans) are not required by law to prove the sufficiency of their vision. Commercial licence holders (category C&D vehicles) do have to undergo a sight test every five years from the age of 45, and then annually from 65.

However, the new EU proposal states that regardless of age, holders of commercial licences will now need to have their eyes tested at least once every five years and holders of private licences every 10 to 15 years. Each EU member state has until 2013 to translate the directive into national law.

Devastating Implications

While the requirements may not sound like too much of a burden, with 200 workers killed or seriously injured every week in road traffic accidents, the implications of not adhering to the changes could be potentially devastating for an employer.

According to the Ministry of Justice: "Courts will look at management systems and practices across the organisation, providing a more effective means for prosecuting the worst corporate failures to manage health and safety properly."

In addition, the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 states that ‘an organisation will be guilty of the new offence if the way in which its activities are managed or organised causes a death and amounts to a gross breach of duty of care to the deceased'.

And ultimately, the duty of care lies with the employer. It is the company's responsibility to ensure that any person driving as part of their work has sufficient vision to do so safely and therefore it is crucial that some form of procedure is introduced in order to encourage employees to access regular sight tests.

A person's eyesight deteriorates naturally with age and, if left undetected, these natural changes can result in a failure to comply with the minimum sight requirements needed in order to drive safely.

With more traffic and distractions on the road than ever before, driving requires an enormous amount of concentration and if vision is not up to scratch then drivers are risking both their own and other drivers' lives - that is a huge responsibility for an employer to manage.

Alarmingly, recent research by the Eyecare Trust has shown that more than 10% of drivers would fail a driving test if they re-took it today because of poor eyesight. The charity also recommends undergoing a sight test every two years, more frequently than the EU legislation proposes.

Many employers will already be accustomed to funding sight tests for staff who use visual display units (VDUs), but as businesses are only legally responsible for covering the cost of tests and treatment needed as a direct result of using VDUs, some companies may only have a sporadic optical care scheme in place.

 

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