Safety & Compliance

The Sleep That Kills

January 04, 2002

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A driver who just logged eight hours of sleep is pulling over for naps every two hours. Another driver is worried about an increasing tendency to nod off while he's driving. An owner-operator behind the wheel of a calendar-worthy show rig wakes up parked in the median.
In these cases, the on-the-job drowsiness is being caused by a sleep disorder called Obstructive Sleep Apnea. As Contributing Editor Bette Garber reports in the January issue of Heavy Duty Trucking, in the trucking industry, this disorder is not only contributing to accidents and near-misses, late deliveries, reduced productivity and absenteeism, but is also affecting insurance costs and liability exposure.

It is estimated that one third to three quarters of truckers experience this disorder, to one degree or another, many of them without having any idea that something's wrong with them - or that it is easily treated.
The HDT article covers the difference between fatigue and sleep apnea; how OSA disrupts sleep; who's at risk; treatments for sleep apnea; and what fleets can do to educate and screen drivers. It quotes sleep science experts, truckers and others diagnosed with sleep apnea, and fleets who are tackling the problem head-on.
Stuart Lowenthal, chief operating officer of Kentucky-based HealthScreenings, tells Garber he is fighting a challenging battle in his efforts to wake the trucking industry up to the threat of OSA. Trucking administrators are often reluctant to acknowledge that their drivers may have sleep apnea, he says, because they believe it will be expensive to treat and increase the carrier's liability.
Lowenthal compares OSA to poor eyesight. "It's like wearing glasses, a correctable thing," he says. "If you have a vision problem or OSA and don't get treated, then you are at risk."

For more on obstructive sleep apnea, see the January issue of Heavy Duty Trucking. Click here to see if you qualify for a free subscription.

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