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Metro-North Announces Sleep Apnea Screening Program

It may not be mandatory in the U.S. yet, but a growing number of employers aren’t waiting for legislation to be in place before testing their workers for sleep apnea.

This week Metro-North, a U.S.-based transportation authority, announced it will start screening its workers as part of a seven-month pilot program, joining the list of companies increasingly recognizing the value of sleep apnea screening programs. If approved by the transportation authority’s board on Wednesday, Metro-North’s program would be one of several pilots starting to pop up in North America, including here in Canada. This year, the team at DriverCheck and MedSleep launched a large-scale sleep apnea testing program for a client in Atlantic Canada, and several provincial trucking associations are also encouraging their members to pro-actively reduce the risks.

Those risks are evidenced time and time again. A little over a year ago, a Metro-North train crash in New York that was blamed in part on sleep apnea killed four people and injured another 70. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded the train engineer failed to follow speed restrictions because he had fallen asleep due to undiagnosed, severe obstructive sleep apnea.

The problem is not new to the transportation industry. In October, a CBC News story revealed a dangerous reality – reporting that 75% of freight train engineers in Canada have fallen asleep at the controls. The workers told the CBC that chronic exhaustion is one of the biggest issues facing the industry. In 2012, a Sleep in America poll for the National Sleep Foundation found that 26% of train operators, 23% of pilots, 15% of truck drivers and 10% of bus/taxi/limo drivers said sleepiness impacted their job performance at least once a week.

The problem is also well recognized. The Federal Aviation Administration’s website states, “It (obstructive sleep apnea) has significant safety implications because it can cause excessive daytime sleepiness, cognitive impairment, cardiac dysrhythmias, sudden cardiac death, personality disturbances, and hypertension.” Late last year the FAA announced all pilots with a BMI of 40 or greater would need to be tested, but opposition from labour groups and others quickly led to the new rules becoming a guide rather than a requirement.

Similar opposition forced the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to take a step back with its proposed formal structure for sleep apnea testing of all truck drivers in the United States.  The FMCSA will be forced to follow a formal rulemaking process (which includes a public comment period) before sleep apnea screening can potentially become mandatory. This process could take a few years.

It’s a well-recognized, well-documented problem that requires a pro-active approach. In a story published by CBS New York, acting NTSB Chair Christopher Hart reinforced this message, stating that “Ongoing efforts to address known safety issues should not have to wait for accidents in order to be implemented, but instead should be preventive measures and be completed before an accident occurs.”

Many employers aren’t waiting until the guidelines become law. Join the list of companies spearheading efforts to reduce the risks now. We can help. This short video will show you how a comprehensive sleep apnea program works. Feel free to reach out to us for more information on the disorder, and the return on investment a sleep apnea program can provide for your workers and your company.