The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has once again stressed the importance of screening and testing truck drivers for sleep apnea.
In December, the FMCSA faced criticism for not having clear enough guidelines for medical examiners with regard to sleep apnea – the health condition that impairs the quality of sleep people get and increases drowsiness, a very dangerous condition for those whose job requires them to drive for hours at a time.
Sleep apnea is defined as a disorder in which airflow is restricted during sleep, which leads to less oxygen to the brain and poor sleep. The result is drowsiness and a lack of concentration during the day. Examiners look for risk factors – driver history, overall health – and consider more in-laboratory testing or treatment options.
Accidents from sleep apnea are well-documented and the National Transportation Safety Board considers sleep apnea fatigue a nationwide problem not just for truck drivers but piles and commuters in general.
One problem with sleep apnea is people don’t always know they have it, so the NTSB recommends professional drivers and pilots be tested for it. The problem facing the FMCSA is there is no clear-cut program or standard in place for screening and flagging drivers, pushing those on the outside to ask for clearer standards.
To help clear this up, the FMCSA issued a bulletin recently for medical examiners and training organizations, according to an article in overdriveonline.com. In this bulletin, regulators try to “spell out” regulations.
When medical professionals examine drivers, they are checked for respiratory dysfunctions including sleep apnea. The article states that the FMCSA recommends, “If a medical examiner believes the driver’s respiratory condition is in any way likely to interfere with the driver’s ability to safely control and drive a commercial motor vehicle, the driver should be referred to a specialist for further evaluation and therapy.”
Sleep apnea can be a disqualifying condition or result in suspension of certification for drivers until further treatment is sought. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a cut and dry situation.
When sleep apnea is diagnosed, the level of sleep apnea is rated for severity, which leads to treatment options. And it does not mean drivers diagnosed for sleep apnea are automatically unfit for the road. It simply means appropriate treatment must be sought.
Because sleep apnea is treatable, the condition can be managed and reduced, which the FMCSA recognizes. Drivers who are able to reduce their risks of drowsy driving are able to continue their careers. The FMCSA, in fact, is on record as stating diagnosis and treatment options are best left to the healthcare professionals and the driver.
Though the regulations and criteria may not be 100 percent clear, the important thing for truckers to understand is if you think you have sleep apnea, or even know it for sure, don’t be afraid you will lose your job if it’s diagnosed.
There are plenty of treatment options and you can keep your job. You don’t want to hide from this condition for fear of getting fired, your safety and the safety of everyone else on the road is too important.
So talk to medical professionals during examinations. Find out if you have a condition and take the appropriate treatment options so you stay safe, alert and on the road.
And if an emergency does strike, North Dixie Truck and Trailer, Inc. is your 24-hour emergency service. Call us at 1-800-440-9523 when an accident strikes and we’ll come to you for immediate help. And don’t forget, for all necessary maintenance (419-221-3750) and parts (419-222-8785), NDI has all the certifications and equipment you need.