Obstructive Sleep Apnea – the issue that never sleeps

by Ken Presley

In March 2016, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a joint Advanced Notice of Public Rulemaking (ANPRM) in response to the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) investigation of truck and train incidents thought to have a correlation with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

The agencies sought to gather information on moderate to severe sleep apnea among workers in safety-sensitive positions, including benefits and costs of any regulations, such as requiring drivers with certain OSA risk factors to go through evaluation and treatment by a sleep disorders medical expert.

OSA is caused when the airway is blocked, and normal breathing is interrupted. It can lead to increased drowsiness when awake, causing drivers to be less alert and reactive. One of a plethora of known sleep disorders, OSA affects about 22 million people in the United States, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association. They estimate that 80 percent of moderate to severe OSA cases are undiagnosed.

The United Motorcoach Association has consistently held the position that OSA is adequately addressed in the current commercial driver’s license medical evaluation and no further requirements are necessary.

In Aug. 2017, FMCSA withdrew the ANPRM stating, “The Agencies believe that current safety programs and FRA’s rulemaking addressing fatigue risk management are the appropriate avenues to address OSA.”

In Jan. 2015, FMCSA placed the responsibility on the drivers’ medical examiners, encouraging them to refer drivers for apnea testing if they “believe 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.”

As with most causes in Washington – they never really go away.

Unfortunately, House and Senate members from New Jersey and New York have introduced identical bills that direct the Secretary of Transportation (in this case FMCSA) to publish a final rule mandating screening, testing and treatment for sleep disorders for drivers of commercial motor vehicles and rail operators.

  • The Senate bill, S.1883, was introduced by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), and has drawn cosponsor support from Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
  • On the House side, H.R.3882 was introduced by Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), and cosponsored by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Albio Sires (D-NJ).

While we do not expect these bills to pass in the current Congress, the midterm elections could change everything if the House and/or Senate majorities change in 2019.

The industry likely does not need one more burdensome regulatory mandate – particularly when the issue is already addressed.

UMA encourages employers and drivers to use the North American Fatigue Management Program (NAFMP).

The NAFMP is a voluntary, fully interactive web-based educational and training program developed to provide both truck and bus commercial vehicle drivers and carriers and others in the supply chain with an awareness of the factors contributing to fatigue and its impact on performance. Guidance on health and wellness, time management, vehicle technologies and scheduling best practices provide effective mitigation strategies to address fatigue while maintaining a healthy and productive work/life balance. Module 8 of the program, Driver Sleep Disorders Management, includes an extensive discussion of OSA. Learn more at www.nafmp.org. UMA encourages members to study that and follow this burdensome and costly issue closely.

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