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October 16, 2023 Opinion & Commentary

How to keep your employees healthy from the pitfalls of excessive screen time

Premilla Banwait

Whether your team members are working in the office, remotely or doing a little bit of both, they likely spend many hours looking at blue light-emitting computers or smartphones.

In fact, one report found people spend an average of 13 hours per day using digital devices, including for work and leisure.

While in some cases that screen time may be unavoidable, it’s important to recognize that excessive exposure to blue light may have short- and life-term consequences — both for your employees and your organization.

That’s because blue light — which is a short-wavelength, high-energy light — has the potential to disrupt daily routines and damage eyes over time.

The sun is the largest source of blue light, but computers, smartphones and other digital devices also emit it — at much closer range and for extended periods, even long after the sun has set.

Researchers continue to evaluate the potential health implications that may come from too much exposure to blue light, including sleep problems and symptoms that are collectively called digital eye strain.

To help reduce the potential health and productivity impacts of all that screen time on your employees, here are five strategies for employers to consider.

Share information about healthy computer use.

Consider reminding employees to increase the distance between their eyes and their screens.

Employees should try to avoid long sessions in front of screens, in part by following the 20-20-20 rule: After 20 minutes of computer use, stop and focus on something that’s at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds to give your eyes a break.

Focus on clear computer screens.

Encourage clean computer screens to help improve display readability. Suggest repositioning computers or using curtains, shades or blinds to help avoid harsh lighting that puts shadows or glare on the screen.

Also, consider making available screen filters to help employees reduce their blue-light exposure at work.

Tap into safer technology.

Some laptops and monitors now have built-in technology designed to help filter out blue light without diminishing the viewing experience.

Some laptops now feature embedded blue light-filtering properties, while specialized screen protectors with similar technology can enable employees to retrofit existing smartphones, tablets, laptops and computer monitors.

Encourage comprehensive eye exams.

Squinting while looking at screens, discomfort or dizziness may all be signs of eye problems that can be identified during a comprehensive eye exam.

Even if there are no warning signs, starting in their 20s, adults should get a baseline eye exam. After that check, an ophthalmologist can suggest how often to do future exams.

Offer additional resources.

Glasses with an anti-reflective coating may help prevent digital eye strain symptoms. Employers can look for a vision plan that provides discounts on blue light-filtering eyewear, which may help employees reduce the risk of developing digital eye strain.

Dr. Premilla Banwait is the vice president of clinical programs at UnitedHealthcare, a major insurer in Connecticut.

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