Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which a person’s breathing is interrupted during sleep, so the person stops breathing repeatedly while sleeping, depriving the brain and body of oxygen. It can result in poor sleep quality and excessive daytime sleepiness as well as a myriad of potentially severe medical issues.
A recent study sponsored by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration found that nearly a third (28 percent) of over the road truck drivers have sleep apnea. As these drivers travel the highways across the country, this medical condition can represent a danger to these drivers and everyone else on the road.
In fact, in 2013 an estimated 72,000 motor vehicle accidents and 800 deaths were caused by driver fatigue. Since one major cause of driver fatigue is untreated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), both regulators and carriers are making moves toward requiring sleep apnea testing.
In addition to public safety concerns, sleep apnea is a driver health issue and it’s critical for motor carriers and their drivers to address it. If not treated, sleep apnea is a contributing factor in a number of other health problems, including: high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, diabetes, and headaches.
However, once diagnosed, sleep apnea can be treated with lifestyle changes and with CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), which keeps the person’s airflow consistent and regular during sleep, resulting in better quality sleep.
This can lead to less daytime drowsiness and a safer, more alert driver navigating the road. Many carriers are now implementing health and wellness programs as part of their benefits program, and health services such as sleep apnea testing is one important component to it.
In addition, in the midst of a driver shortage and high attrition and turnover rates, carriers are already struggling to hire and retain enough drivers.
Drivers with untreated medical conditions like sleep apnea can be one more compounding factor exacerbating the challenge of maintaining a full driver roster. Carriers can offer sleep apnea testing services to help keep their drivers healthy as part of their retention efforts.
One of the key goals for a sleep apnea test that is both driver and motor carrier friendly is speed, which in turn requires convenience.
If a medical examiner identifies a potential sleep apnea condition during a routine physical examination, that driver could become disqualified from driving until the testing is completed and any prescribed treatment program is implemented.
Going through the proper process as quickly as possible will allow the driver to return to work and remain qualified – desirable to both driver and employer.
Sleep apnea testing can help ensure safer truck drivers on the road, reduce risk for the motor carrier while protecting drivers’ health and enabling them to get back to work as quickly as they’re able. It is an important element in a health screening and wellness program and serves to improve road safety for everyone.
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