The American Sleep Apnea Association (ASAA) today announced plans to conduct a first-ever national conference on sleep apnea and trucking. While sleep apnea is a major health and safety concern for all transportation modes, studies have shown that as many as 28 percent of commercial drivers may be afflicted by the illness.Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition in which an individual’s airway is blocked while sleeping, typically resulting in frequent breathing interruptions lasting from10 seconds to more than a minute at a time, loud snoring and non-restorative sleep. OSA afflicts at least 20 million Americans …equal to or more than asthma or diabetes, yet more than 85% remain undiagnosed. Individuals with OSA are more likely to have high blood pressure, heart problems, stroke, depression and sexual dysfunction and their annual health care costs are twice that of people without sleep apnea. A controlled study demonstrated that people with OSA have a six times greater risk of being involved in a traffic crash and a seven times greater risk of having multiple crashes.”The meeting’s objectives are to provide a common understanding of OSA diagnosis and treatment, clarify current and proposed regulations, create a forum of experts to generate guidance for improvements, and provide trucking management attendees with a resource toolkit to improve employee health and safety as well as realize significant benefits for the company”, said Ed Grandi, ASAA Executive Director. The first government agencies, organizations and companies to participate in this effort include: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), American Trucking Associations (ATA), Owner- Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Schneider National and ResMed Corporation, among others to be announced. Although commercial drivers are believed to be particularly at-risk for OSA, addressing the problem has been a challenge. “Considering the perceived expense associated with diagnosis and treatment, the potential loss of income for drivers, and the need for additional research and thoughtful regulation, the issue becomes quite complex”, Grandi explained. “By convening this meeting, great strides can be made to overcome some of the stumbling blocks that have prevented further progress”, Grandi added.
While many trucking companies are uncertain about the impact of sleep apnea on the health and safety of their drivers, a number of leading companies have taken steps to get their drivers diagnosed and treated while realizing significant health, safety and financial benefits. Don Osterberg, Senior VP, Safety at Schneider National said, “Schneider National believes that we have a moral obligation as a company to operate the safest fleet we possibly can put out on the road. As far as a return on investment, we’ve found that not only have we reduced crash frequency and severity, we’ve improved fleet retention. We’ve seen dramatic reductions in health care costs with drivers after they’ve been diagnosed and treated.”
With presentations and panel discussions on the central issues associated with sleep apnea and trucking, ASAA seeks to establish an ongoing forum that will enable trucking, health and policy groups to work together to manage a health and safety concern that needs more awareness and focused effort.
The one-day conference will be held on Wednesday May 12 at The Westin Baltimore Washington – BWI in Baltimore and is preceded by a reception and keynote address from NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman on Tuesday, May 11.