Managing a prescription safety eyewear program can prove challenging to safety managers whether their workforce is large or small. It’s a complicated and time-intensive process, involving workforce assessment, HR benefits, billing and accounting, scheduling, eye care professionals and individualized eyewear. For this reason, many companies elect not to offer Rx safety eyewear. However, considering the aging workforce, combined with the dangers and cost that uncorrected vision problems pose, there has never been a more important time to implement an Rx safety eyewear program.

According to The Vision Council, 70 percent of workers require vision correction, and that number is climbing due to the rise of Baby Boomers in the workplace. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that more than 90 percent of all growth in the U.S. labor force from 2006 to 2016 will be workers aged 55 and older. Born between 1946 and 1964, the Baby Boomer population is now reaching the age when it is common to experience reduced visual capacity. Yet, vision loss often occurs so gradually that even the affected individual doesn’t notice it happening.

The most common vision issue for people aged between 20 and 30 is nearsightedness, or difficulty seeing things that are far away. Over time, though, eye muscles get tired and eye lenses become less flexible, making it more difficult for the eyes to shift from focusing far to near like they used to. By their early 40s, most people experience farsightedness, and by their 50s, most individuals’ ability to see middle distance also deteriorates. This natural progression of vision loss requires multifocal lens corrective eyewear. Today, roughly 55 percent of people wearing corrective lenses wear those with multifocal capabilities to account for more than one type of vision loss.

When vision problems go uncorrected, individuals can experience blurred vision, double vision, headaches, dizziness and nausea. In the workplace, this translates to reduced productivity as employees’ speed, accuracy and overall efficiency become impaired. In many environments the risk of serious injury also increases with uncorrected vision. The workplace is a much more dangerous place when workers can’t properly see their surroundings and stay out of harm’s way.

According to The Vision Council, uncorrected vision problems cost businesses more than $8 billion in lost productivity each year, while on-the-job eye injuries are estimated at $300 million annually. Considering the toll vision problems take on individuals and employers alike, it is easy to understand the value of incorporating an effective Rx eyewear program into safety initiatives in every industry. This article offers considerations to help make the process easier.

The challenges

There are many approaches to managing an Rx safety eyewear program, from direct reimbursement plans and managed care vision plans to discount vision plans. While each involves varying levels of employer management, they all present complications as well. This is because there’s no broad solution to providing Rx safety eyewear: every lens on every pair must be individually crafted to meet the employee’s specific needs and exact measurements.

In order to deliver Rx safety eyewear, vision screening must be conducted across the workforce and valid prescriptions dispensed. When an onsite program is used, the employer is responsible for scheduling each employee’s time to sit with an optician to be fitted and measured for prescription eyewear. If an employee does not have his valid prescription on hand, he will have to reschedule or arrange to send it later. Opticians often charge a fee for each site visit, and those working second and third shifts often have to come in on their own time to get fitted. New employees who miss the scheduled optician visit may have to wait a month or more for the next visit.

If conducted offsite, employees must take time out of their personal lives to get fitted. While this approach saves employees time, it leaves room for error. Opticians who are not safety trained aren’t always aware that they need to provide safety eyewear, and instead may supply street wear, which does not meet safety standards. Whether conducted on or off site, the number of styles offered is often limited and may not meet workers’ preferences.

Finally, a follow-up visit with an optician must be arranged for employees to receive their eyewear. During the visit employees make sure they are receiving the proper glasses and prescription. Beware of fitting fees for this visit, as many Rx safety eyewear styles are plastic and cannot be manipulated beyond their basic comfort and adjustability features.

Managing the paperwork and billing for an Rx eyewear program is also time intensive. Transcribing the workforce’s prescriptions and other pertinent information can lead to errors. Charges and surcharges such as dispensing fees, hourly optician fees and surcharges for excessive vision correction can add up quickly and exceed budget expectations. Furthermore, the time and effort it takes to track purchase orders and handle accounting and individual benefits quickly adds up.

The solutions

The first step to implementing a successful Rx safety eyewear program is to designate a budget. Offering a standardized benefit is easier to manage than one that is variable, and may prove helpful in keeping the program on budget. Next, effectively manage your employee list. Screen every employee to identify those who require vision correction. Then, know the hazards each individual is exposed to in order to provide the proper level of protective eyewear.

When it comes to selecting eyewear, there are a few key elements to success. Keeping your cost fixed is good, but not at the expense of protecting the workforce. If employees wear multifocal lenses outside of work, be sure they have the option to wear the same type of lens at work. There is a quantifiable difference among the various types of multifocal lenses. If an individual’s street wear and safety eyewear are different — and he or she must transition from one type of lens to another — it can take their eyes up to half an hour to adjust. That can pose real risks. By offering workers the option to upgrade to multifocal lenses, you encourage both safety and productivity.

Next, understand that style is a major factor in compliance. There is a direct correlation between comfort and style of safety eyewear and compliance. Be sure the optometrists your employees see offer a wide selection of frame styles that workers are willing to wear. By allowing employees to upgrade to a style they like, they’ll be more likely to wear them.

In addition, be aware of the models workers are choosing. It is the employer’s responsibility to provide workers with safety eyewear suitable for the specific hazards present. Be sure Rx eyewear is rated for the appropriate hazards, and that the lab manufacturing the lenses and assembling them into safety frames is ANSI-certified.

To better control costs with onsite opticians, review contracts annually, inquire about specific fees and ask them to be available during second and third shifts to ease scheduling. Furthermore, look for a provider that offers a wide selection of styles to encourage worker acceptance.

Finally, consider an automated Rx safety eyewear program. Solutions are available that enable 24/7 access to fitting, selecting and ordering using a Web-based application and self-standing kiosks. Because inventory is handled offsite, a much wider selection of styles is often available. Solutions such as these can greatly reduce the amount of time, cost and effort involved in managing the Rx benefit.

Across every industry, our vision plays a leading role in productivity and safety. As America’s workforce ages, it is more important now than ever before to ensure that workers have access to Rx safety eyewear. By understanding the options and programs available, you can implement an Rx safety eyewear program that supports a protected and productive workforce.