Screening Truckers for Sleep Apnea Disorder: Federal Government May Rule

Screening Truckers for Sleep Apnea Disorder: Federal Government May Rule

There are many ongoing changes affecting the trucking industry on a weekly basis, and the responsibility of this industry to keep working efficiently while minimizing loss (monetary or physically) is a big one.

A hot topic grabbing headlines this month is the screenings for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) which may soon be required for all commercial truckers, bus drivers and railroad workers if the federal government makes it a law.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) disorder is the most common type of sleep apnea and is caused by complete or partial obstructions of the upper airway. It can lead to drowsy driving and add to the risk of crashes.

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Tackling the issue are the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) by gathering public comments until July 8.

The feds can make Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) screenings a requirement for all commercial truckers, bus drivers and railroad workers.

“It is imperative for everyone’s safety that commercial motor vehicle drivers and train operators be fully focused and immediately responsive at all times,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement in March, when the DOT announced the proposal. “DOT strongly encourages comment from the public on how to best respond to this national health and transportation safety issue.”

Sleep experts supporting the possible mandate believe that if turned into law, it will be a big step in public safety as well as improvement in the health of truckers and operators of commercial vehicles. “There is insufficient data linking OSA and higher crash rates,” – Norita Taylor, spokeswoman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA)

However, there are critics to this proposal suggesting that the validity of reported OSA and fatigue statistics. They say that current medical examinations that rely on self-reporting are sufficient enough.

“There is insufficient data linking OSA and higher crash rates,” Norita Taylor, spokeswoman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), told in an email. “OSA testing can also be quite costly to drivers, both in terms of dollars and time, and if required by a Certified Medical Examiner, is rarely covered by standard medical insurance.”

Whether the mandate would apply only to current drivers, and what the consequence of a diagnosis would mean for their jobs, is all not clear as of now. Will the rule be used as a screening tool to decide who gets hired in the future (new hires)? That is also not known.

Duane DeBruyne, a spokesman for the FMCSA, said the agencies could not comment on the proposal during the public commenting period. The FMCSA has recommended that commercial drivers get screening for OSA. In 2013, the trucking lobby prompted Congress to require a formal process before such rules are implemented. However, data suggests sleep apnea may be a large contributing factor to fatigue-related crashes.

A traffic safety report by the AAA in November 2014 estimated drowsy driving causes 328,000 crashes, 109,000 injuries, and 6,400 deaths each year. Commercial drivers are more likely to drive drowsy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Currently, pilots are screened regularly for OSA, but no such requirement is found for truckers and railroad workers. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) states that sleep apnea is linked to commercial driver crashes. Investigators found an undiagnosed case of sleep apnea led to the Dec. 1, 2013 Metro-North train derailment in the Bronx that killed four people and injured 60. The engineer of the metro-train fell asleep while behind the wheel.

Dr. Nathaniel Watson, the ex-president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and a board certified neurologist and sleep specialist, told “One of the biggest problems of [OSA] is excessive fatigue, and so clearly for anybody working in a safety-sensitive position where alertness is crucial to public safety, this is the type of illness that would be a major public health concern if it were not addressed.”

It has been shown that sleep apnea is not just something that causes daytime drowsiness, but also heightens the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, mental illness, obesity and high blood pressure.

Here at Royalty Truck Insurance, we realize a lot is riding on our hard working truckers. All we like to see are healthy, alert drivers. We like to encourage them to seek medical help and meet certified experts in order to stay healthy and be there for their families and this nation.