One of the things every trucker learns in CDL driving school is the legal responsibility professionals have to make sure they maintain reasonably good health and, in cases where serious health problems do occur, report those issues to the appropriate authorities. Truck drivers can simply not afford to take any risks with their health given that they are driving such large and heavy vehicles that become deadly weapons in an accident. Knowing this, the results of a recently-released study of truckers with sleep apnea should be a wake-up call to drivers.
Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the University of Minnesota looked at data compiled by a large, industry-wide employee screening program implemented to diagnose and monitor treatment of obstructive sleep apnea among truckers. They concluded that all truck drivers should be screened for sleep apnea and if a positive diagnosis is made, treated regularly in order to continue working. Those who are not treated should reconsider their careers as professional truck drivers.
According to the data, as many as 20% of the crashes involving large trucks are directly related to drowsiness or fatigued driving. Researchers say that sleep apnea is the most common cause of daytime sleepiness and fatigue. They also discovered via the study data that the condition is especially dangerous for truck drivers.
Looking at a group of just over 1,600 drivers diagnosed with sleep apnea, researchers determined that 682 used company-provided pressurized air machines nightly to treat their condition. Another 571 used the air machines part time while another 360 did not use the machines at all. The entire group was compared to a control group of 2,016 drivers. The 360 who did not treat were found to have five times greater risk of causing a preventable crash than the 682 who adhered to treatment.
Why This Is so Serious
There are three different kinds of sleep apnea, the most common form being obstructive sleep apnea. This form of the condition occurs due to throat muscles relaxing during sleep. The relaxed muscles cause obstruction of the airway which briefly causes the individual to wake up long enough to restore normal breathing. Each episode of disrupted breathing lasts but a second, but repeating the process over and over again prevents the individual from falling into the deep sleep needed to get sufficient rest.
Obstructive sleep apnea is extremely dangerous for obvious reasons. Where truck drivers are concerned, the effects of sleep apnea can be much more profound. For example, consider how exhausting driving is even under normal conditions. A driver suffering from untreated sleep apnea finds exhaustion sets in earlier in the day, leading to drowsiness behind the wheel. It does not take much for a drowsy driver to nod off long enough to lose control of his/her rig.
The other thing to consider is that sleep apnea tends to promote other unhealthy conditions, including weight gain. The lack of restful sleep just makes it more difficult for truckers to maintain good health in an industry that is notorious for calorie-rich foods, lack of exercise, and other unhealthy habits.
Drivers learn about the need for good health in CDL driving school. They need to remember what they’ve learned throughout their careers in order to stay safe. Any driver who finds him/herself consistently drowsy or fatigued during the work day should take it upon him/herself to be screened for obstructive sleep apnea. If the condition is diagnosed, it is imperative that it be treated properly. With treatment, a driver can continue working safely and productively.
1. ASPPH – http://www.aspph.org/harvard-truck-drivers-who-dont-treat-sleep-apnea-more-likely-to-crash/