Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition in which a person’s airway collapses repeatedly during sleep. This disease causes the brain to partially awaken in order to trigger breathing, resulting in poor sleep quality. Research has shown that poor sleep quality can affect the ability of a person to maintain alertness while driving. OSA has also been shown to cause an increase in blood pressure, a spike in adrenaline, pulmonary and respiratory diseases as well as other co-morbidities.
The treatment for OSA usually includes a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine that uses gentle air stream that is piped into a mask that is fitted over the patients nose or mouth. Dental devices and surgery are other less-prescribed treatments.
While there is ample research that shows that untreated OSA is associated with a higher accident risk in the general driving population, relevant data about commercial truck drivers is scant. Last year, a collaborative group of researchers that included Harvard Medical School, University of California, University of Minnesota and others, evaluated the impact of an employer-mandated OSA program designed to measure the risk of serious preventable truck crashes.
The study, “Non-Adherence with Employer-Mandated Sleep Apnea Treatment and Increased Risk of Serious Truck Crashes,” found that there is a correlation between non-adherence to sleep apnea treatment and commercial tractor-trailer crashes. The study was conducted in cooperation with Schneider Trucking Company. Schneider requires their drivers to adhere to OSA treatment if they are diagnosed with the condition. Diagnosis and treatment are provided by the company’s health insurance providers under the preventative healthcare services category at no out-of-pocket cost to the driver. Out of 17,000 drivers that were screened within a year’s timeframe, 2,200 were diagnosed with OSA.
When a cohort group that has the same number of years driving experience is compared with a group that is unlikely to have OSA is studied, drivers with non-adherence to treatment have a significantly higher risk of a Department of Transportation (DOT) reportable preventable crash. A crash must meet one (or more) of the following criteria in order to be considered “reportable” to the DOT:
- There was a fatality
- One or more of the vehicles involved had to be towed from the scene (significant property damage)
- Someone involved was treated for injuries away from the scene.
Based on the findings of this study, researchers highly recommend that all commercial truck drivers be screened for OSA and adhere to their prescribed treatment in order to reduce the number of preventable crashes, thereby reducing the number of incidences that involve fatalities, injuries and significant property damage.
If you or someone you know suspects they have sleep apnea, contact your medical doctor or a sleep specialist. Another option is to contact Precision Pulmonary Diagnostics, an organization that has been specifically set up to provide cost-effective, high-quality sleep apnea services to truck drivers. PPD offers a network of sleep diagnostic centers throughout the U.S. Their contact number is 866-370-3102.
Here at AAOO we understand the key to keeping you safe, healthy and financially secure is to be informed, prepared and supported with access to the tools you need to be successful. Click here to learn more about the many member benefits AAOO members receive to help them be healthier, wealthier and happier truck drivers. We’d love to have you join us!