The Trump administration announced that the federal government will no longer seek stricter regulations on testing of truck drivers and train engineers for obstructive sleep apnea. The Obama administration had proposed stricter guidelines and testing in March 2016 after two deadly train crashes that are believed to be a result of train engineers with undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea.
The Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration urged trucking and railroad companies to voluntarily screen employees for sleep apnea, especially those involved in safety-related work such as train engineers and truck drivers. The advice to voluntarily screen was given in the same announcement that the federal government would not regulate this testing.
Sleep apnea is normally associated with trouble breathing at night during sleep, however, the disorder can cause issues during waking hours. Many people do not realize that they suffer from sleep apnea and can wake several times throughout the night when their breathing passages become blocked, without even realizing it. This disruption in normal sleep patterns can cause drowsiness and fatigue during the day that can result in a loss of concentration that can be fatal for people in jobs such as train engineers and truck drivers. The federal agencies responsible for regulating trucks and trains have acknowledged that sleep apnea can reduce an individual’s capacity to respond to hazards.
In March 2013, a commuter train in New York jumped the tracks at 82-mph on a 30-mph curve. Four people were killed and investigators from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that the engineer had undiagnosed sleep apnea. Last year, a New Jersey commuter train plowed through an end-of-track barrier, killing one person. That train engineer was also later diagnosed with sleep apnea.
The NTSB has been pushing for required sleep apnea screening for truck drivers and train engineers since 2009. The NTSB estimates that sleep apnea has contributed to at least 10 highway and rail accidents in the past 17 years and is involved in many ongoing investigations. Because sleep apnea often goes undiagnosed, it is imperative that employers figure out which employees suffer from the disorder before a deadly accident occurs.
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