Trucking Wakes Up To Sleep Apnea

Efforts under way to address condition that adds to fatigue Prevalence of sleep apnea among licensed Commercial Drivers: ■ 17% mild sleep apnea ■ 5% moderate ■ 4% severe Source: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Transportation Risk Managers and Commercial Drivers are grappling with the problem of sleep apnea, a condition that contributes to daytime drowsiness, as they try to find ways to improve safety on the road. According to a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration commissioned study, out of 3.4 million licensed Commercial Drivers, approximately 26% of drivers suffering from some form of sleep apnea. Studies have shown that sleep apnea can severely impact driving performance by greatly increasing fatigue, boosting the risk of crashes. Though the commercial trucking industry is aware of the prevalence of sleep apnea among drivers, there still is much to be learned in the way the condition is diagnosed, treated and monitored, experts say. Sleep apnea is a condition in which the airway is constricted due to muscular relaxation while sleeping, with interruptions in breathing lasting several seconds at a time, often accompanied by loud snoring and resulting in non-restful sleep. Individuals considered at risk for sleep apnea are those with a body mass index of 30 or greater and a neck circumference of 17 inches or more, experts say, adding that such people often suffer from additional health problems related to obesity, such as diabetes and heart problems. Many people with sleep apnea don’t even know they have it, researchers say, adding that the sleep disorder often results in daytime sleepiness, which has severe effects on reflexes and cognitive and motor skills. “I promise you there are thousands of Commercial Drivers out there that have some form of sleep apnea,” said Don Osterberg, Vice President of Safety and Driver Training for Green Bay, Wisconsin-based Schneider National Inc. “Many drivers don’t want to talk about it, or are in denial that they have a medical condition, or don’t even know they have it. They are not educated on sleepiness, and they might think that daytime sleepiness is normal to them and they don’t realize it is abnormal.” Mr. Osterberg said at least 17% of drivers at Schneider are afflicted with severe sleep apnea. To deal with the issue, Mr. Osterberg said Schneider recently funded an initiative to help diagnose and treat their drivers as a way to help mitigate health care costs and reduce the crash risk on the road. As a result, Mr. Osterberg said Schneider has seen a “significant reduction” in the frequency and severity of crashes. “Making this a safety priority has paid back dividends,” he said. Drivers who are diagnosed with sleep apnea are required by the FMCSA to be “disqualified until diagnosis of sleep apnea is ruled out or has been treated successfully.”
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