Sleep Apnea a Major Concern for the Department of Transportation

Man with sleep apnea using a CPAP machine in bed.The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration published on Thursday a proposal that calls for the public to provide input regarding the impact of screening and treating commercial drivers and rail workers for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which the patient’s breathing stops and starts repeatedly. The patient may not notice, but the cessation of breathing does disrupt sleep, leaving them fatigued during the day. Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of the disorder; it occurs when the throat muscles relax. During an average night of sleep, a patient with OSA may experience 60 apneas per hour.

The National Transportation Safety Board recommends that the Department of Transportation consider requiring medical fitness as an addition to employee regulations in 2016.

This dialogue was sparked by a number of sleep apnea-related accidents, including a work zone accident in which a tractor-trailer collided with a Tennessee Highway Patrol car, killing the state trooper inside. It was later discovered that the tractor-trailer driver had been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea but had not disclosed this information to employers.

Another accident cited by the FMCSA and the FRA in support of their proposal was the 2013 commuter train derailment in New York City that injured more than 60 people and killed four.

“The collection and analysis of sound data on the impact of OSA must be our immediate first step,” said the FMCSA Administrator Scott Darling. “We call upon the public to help us better understand the prevalence of OSA among commercial truck and bus drivers, as well as the safety and economic impacts on the truck and bus industries.”

The FMCSA and FRA plan to host three public sessions in Washington, Chicago, and Los Angeles in order to obtain information and public input on obstructive sleep apnea. From the input received, the two agencies will consider whether to move forward in proposing employee requirements specifically about OSA.

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