Businesses facing the prospect of thousands of pounds in eyesight test charges for staff should consider offsetting occupational health costs with cash plan provision. That is the view of employee healthcare and risk management specialist PMI Health Group in the wake of an EU directive making regular eye tests mandatory for employees who drive while on company business.

Companies operating large vehicle fleets face escalating costs, particularly at the pump and many have had to announce pay freezes, said PMI Health Group compliance director Mike Blake. "Healthcare specialists suggest the responsibility to provide access to regular sight tests will fall to the employer. This, however, may present an opportunity to introduce an employee benefit to cover this cost, while at the same time addressing other healthcare risks faced by drivers."

Research has shown, for example, that those who drive more than four hours a day are six times more likely to take time off work for back problems than those who drive less than two hours. Cash plans, which can cost from as little as 60p per employee per week, offer a wide range of benefits, including physiotherapy and optical provisions to cover the additional cost of eye tests ushered in by the legislation.

The EU proposal requires holders of commercial vehicle driving licences to have their eyes tested every five years. Each member country has until 2013 to translate it into national law.

In addition to optical and physiotherapy provision, cash plans will cover other healthcare from dental to high-tech scans. "Despite their low cost, the plans can have a high perceived value and be extremely well-received by a workforce," added Blake. "Cash plans deliver a feel-good factor, improving staff morale and motivation".