A significant part of our day includes using ‘screens’ of all sizes for work, shopping, finances, entertainment and more which improves the quality of our lives and provides us with opportunity. Screen use has been steadily building over decades. Clearly, we don’t have the technology available yet to eliminate ‘screens’, however, as is often the case with most things, there are safe and unsafe ways to work with them.
“Viewing a computer or digital screen often makes your eyes work significantly harder. As a result, the unique characteristics and high visual demands of computer and digital screen viewing make many individuals susceptible to the development of vision-related symptoms.”
For our Gen-X knowledge workers born 1965-1980, the daily exposure of screen time has been very high through much of their careers, thus having a deleterious cumulative effect. For our Millennial knowledge workers born 1981-1996, the “dosage as a percentage of age” is even higher. For our Gen-Z knowledge workers born after 1997, the dosage as a percentage of age is even higher – thanks to their access to screens from a very young age before joining the workforce.
Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), also known as Digital Eye Strain (DES), is a condition which often results from chronic unmanaged use of digital devices such as computers, smartphones, and tablets due to the repetitive need for viewing text and images often at very small scale.
We’re thankfully now living in the Age of Wellbeing at work, with all of it’s benefits for employees and employers well-understood. Unfortunately, most experts find CVS firmly entrenched, among the top five threats to Knowledge Worker Wellbeing. In fact, a growing number of experts agree that Computer Vision Syndrome holds the distinction of being called the number one occupational hazard for knowledge workers of the 21st century, see below.
Common CVS Symptoms
Your intrepid author, who also has raging CVS after ignoring it too long, came across an illuminating study recently published in Nature: “Prevalence of Computer Vision Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis“. More than a one-off individual study, this was a painstaking comprehensive meta-analysis reviewing the most recent 745 research studies on the topic from 20 countries.
From this study “The pooled prevalence of computer vision syndrome was determined to be around 66%” which is remarkable considering that if you take a moment right now and raise your eyes to see your co-workers, assuming you’re at your employer’s offices, generally two of every three of your coworkers has some degree of Computer Vision Syndrome. The study continued “Although computer vision syndromes are becoming a major public health concern, less emphasis is given to them, particularly in developing countries.“
Some helpful framing of the issue from the study includes:
Another related issue concerns “blue light“. Blue light is everywhere, including in sunlight. Computer and laptop screens, flat-screen televisions, cell phones, and tablets use LED technologies with high amounts of blue light.
As far as blue light contributing to CVS, studies haven’t produced any compelling evidence although you’ve probably noticed that the world’s largest equipment manufacturers now offer software to adjust the amount of blue light emitted from their screens. You can even find that on your iPhone.
This is because there have been a number of significant studies producing evidence that blue light certainly guides our body’s circadian rhythms (our natural wake and sleep cycles). During daylight, blue light from the sun wakes us up and stimulates us. Too much blue light exposure at night from your phone, tablet or computer, however, makes it harder to get to sleep.
Now that we’ve dutifully mentioned blue light, we’ll leave that for future studies and return to the very well-understood and studied realm of CVS.
CVS Scope and Depth
While the list of CVS studies is long, another recent article on the topic from The American Optometric Association (AOA): Computer Vision Syndrome confirms the scope and depth of the issue for knowledge workers. Guidance from the article includes:
CVS and Musculoskeletal Disorders
Further, from the AOA article, “Some people tilt their heads at odd angles because their glasses aren’t designed for looking at a computer or they bend toward the screen in order to see it clearly. Their postures can result in muscle spasms or pain in the neck, shoulder or back.“
This is consistent with other studies shared in previous articles where it’s been confirmed how people often adjust their posture to compensate for visual challenges encountered while working at their computers.
You probably already know that prolonged awkward and static postures are very highly correlated with increased risk and reported injury.
CVS Mitigation, Best Practice Behaviors
In the AOA article and in most other articles from experts in the field, you’ll find Mitigation Strategies include:
The risk mitigation list above is practical and doesn’t involve large expense. Beyond the basic workstation improvements, you probably already know that the best defense against threats to knowledge worker wellbeing is helping them learn automatic healthful behaviors.
The only remaining question involves how do you help the people you’re responsible for to learn to make those behaviors into automatic habits to improve their wellbeing.
Science and history have shown that you can improve these safety behaviors through a point-of-use operant conditioning positive reinforcement tool being used. Evidence-based ErgoSuite Coach, helping people improve their behaviors since 2000, elegantly embodies the very best of Applied Behavioral Analysis and Operant Conditioning to help knowledge workers learn to make good ergonomic behaviors automatic.