Trucking Industry Tackling Driver Fatigue

Since the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration came into existence in 2000, there have been considerable changes and requirements imposed on trucking, with Congress providing the agency with a long list of regulations to implement. Significantly, one issue—driver fatigue—is being tackled from three different angles:

View Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Spotlight on Sleep Apnea

  • In response to congressional mandates, there have been two instances of hours-of-service regulations issued since 2003 and a third regulation is under way, due for release in July.

  • The National Safety Board has issued a series of recommendations to FMCSA for changes to existing rules touching on driver fatigue while calling for new regulations. One example has been to screen truck drivers for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) as part of an overall fatigue-management program. So pervasive is the OSA problem that the NTSB has issued similar warnings to the aviation, maritime and rail industries for their employees.

  • Most significantly, FMCSA’s new Compliance, Safety, Accountability program, or CSA, attempts to expand the scope of regulatory oversight of motor carriers and drivers. The program will add tools to the conscientious safety manager’s toolbox and identify trends in driver behavior—including fatigue—before they cause crashes.

And yet, while drivers and motor carriers await the new hours-of-service rule, momentum for broader fatigue management among the most safety-conscious motor carriers is building without government mandates.

Much debate surrounds the hours-of-service rule and its effect on driver health, but reducing the hours a driver can work or drive will not remedy the health problems caused by obstructive sleep apnea. In fact, the effort expended on HOS changes is likely to produce fewer safety benefits than the industry could capture simply by aggressively addressing the health of today’s commercial drivers through targeted treatment of OSA.

OSA deprives a driver of deep sleep because the airway in the back of his throat is obstructed for 10 seconds or more. Reduced oxygen wakes the sleeper just enough to start breathing again but not enough to remember the action. And this can happen more than 50 times per hour. The result is a driver who is almost as fatigued in the morning as when he retired for the night — and doesn’t know why.

Estimates vary, but based on one 2006 study used by the FMCSA Medical Review Board, which provides the agency with recommendations regarding medical requirements for commercial vehicle drivers, suggests that between 24% and 41.9% of all commercial drivers could qualify for OSA screening.

The MRB recommended in January 2008 that FMCSA make substantial changes to the current guidelines pertaining to OSA.

OSA testing and treatment options are varied. Traditional testing can require two or more overnight stays in a sleep clinic to test for OSA and determine if the patient will benefit from sleeping with a special mask that keeps the airway open with a continuous flow of air.

Truck drivers, however, need to be diagnosed and treated expeditiously because fleet owners require healthy and treated drivers available for daily duty. For these companies, ambulatory testing of drivers holds tremendous promise because it can be done while a driver sleeps at home, in a hotel or even in his cab’s sleeper berth.

Savvy industry executives realize that drivers are essential to their business and treating OSA where needed is an investment in those drivers, their families and the company’s viability. Data clearly show that with effective management of OSA, individuals experience improved quality of life and fewer catastrophic illnesses and diseases.

Motor carriers have a unique opportunity to address potential safety liabilities within their companies by establishing OSA programs. When this has been accomplished, they will be rewarded with healthier, happier and more productive employees with fewer health claims as well as reduced crash numbers and workplace injuries.

Source:  Transport Topics News

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