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Family of victim alleges driver involved in fatal crash fell asleep and was “ill”

While efforts to implement specific sleep apnea testing requirements for pilots and truck drivers in the U.S. may be stalled, the case for addressing fatigue as part of an overall fitness for duty assessment in safety sensitive positions continues to grow.

Just last week, the family of one of the victims of the bus-train crash in Ottawa filed a lawsuit against the City of Ottawa and the bus driver for negligence – claiming fatigue played a role in the collision. The lawsuit claims the driver “fell asleep at the wheel and was ill”. It also alleges the City of Ottawa allowed the driver to get behind the wheel when it should have known he may have been impaired. While these accusations have not been proven in court, this case should remind employers of the importance of ensuring their workers in safety sensitive positions are fit for duty.

The family of the 45 year old bus driver says he was being treated for Type 2 Diabetes, a common disease among bus and truck drivers alike. It is also quite common that drivers with diabetes suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a leading cause of fatigue.  In fact, the International Diabetes Federation says up to 40% of people with OSA will also have diabetes. This underscores the importance of not treating fatigue in isolation. It should be part of an overall assessment of one’s fitness for duty that can identify other potentially impairing diseases and/or health conditions.

Here are some of the signs to look out for if you believe you, your loved one or your co-worker could be suffering from fatigue:

  • Physical symptoms: sore or aching muscles, headaches, dizziness, loss of appetite, muscle weakness, impaired hand-eye coordination, slow reflexes and responses, and blurred vision. You may also get sick more often.
  • Mental and emotional symptoms: difficulty making decisions, irritability or moodiness, depression or anxiety, making errors in judgement, giddiness, forgetfulness, short-term memory loss, and poor concentration.
  • Work-related triggers: long shifts, timing of shifts (i.e. night shift), insufficient recovery time allowed between shifts, inadequate rest breaks during a shift, boring and repetitive tasks, and physically demanding tasks.
  • Triggers unrelated to work: poor quality of sleep, sleep loss, family needs, taking on multiple jobs, travel time to and from work, and sleep disorders.

Feel free to get in touch with us if you have any questions about fatigue, sleep apnea, or general fitness for duty, and what you can do to mitigate the associated risks.