The Screening and Treatment of Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers and Rail Workers With Sleep Apnea

If you are new to sleep apnea, you may have no idea what it is or why it happens – but sleep apnea is a very serious condition that should never be ignored. This is a disorder plagued by having one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths while you are sleeping. Breathing pauses may happen up to 30 times or more in one hour until normal breathing patterns start again. The quality of sleep that somebody receives with sleep apnea is poor due to the fact that you are constantly moving into a light sleep throughout the night. The unfortunate matter is that sleep apnea goes undiagnosed in many cases.

Sleep apnea affects your sleep, this much is true, but does that also affect how you react during the day? The answer is ‘yes’, sleep apnea affects daytime alertness as well as your overall performance. So, if you are planning on driving, this may actually become a dangerous idea. Studies have shown over the years that people who have not been treated for sleep apnea may have an increased risk of being involved in a fatigue-related motor vehicle crash. However, this does not mean that a patient with sleep apnea should stop driving. FMCSA regulations prescribe people wit a medical history or clinical diagnosis that may get in the way of allowing them to drive safely.

U.S. DOT Seeking Input

Recently, The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced that they are seeking public input over 90 days on the impacts of screening, evaluating, and treating rail workers and commercial motor vehicle drivers who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It is most important for the DOT to take action and address screening so that transportation workers are working as safely as possible at all times. Thee public listening sessions will be held to gather input on cases of OSA in Washington, DC, Chicago, and Los Angeles. DOT has been concerned about these safety issues for some time now and wishes to encourage others to get a better understanding on how to respond to this national health and transportation safety issue.

The largest concern to the DOT is the fact that 22 million men and women may be suffering from OSA at any given time, which can cause extremely serious issues like deficits in attention, concentration problems, situational awareness, memory, and even the capacity to safely respond to hazards when performing safety sensitive service. The fact of the matter is that, even with OSA, you may get eight hours of sleep and still feel like you only received three.

Many studies are being conducted as well as working on a rule that will require certain railroads to establish fatigue management plans. FMCSA recommends that medical examiners refer drivers for further evaluation and therapy if they are detected to have a respiratory dysfunction. Drivers are finally starting to receive the therapy and medical help that they need to function in the workplace. This, in theory, should help prevent many accidents and keep drivers safe on both ends of the spectrum.