The dangers of fatigue are back in the public eye as reports surfaced about the condition of the driver allegedly involved in a fatal New Jersey crash that left popular comedian Tracy Morgan critically injured. According to media reports, a criminal complaint filed against the truck driver says he had not slept for over 24 hours and was driving “recklessly.” That report was later contested. However, Tracy Morgan has since filed a lawsuit against Walmart, alleging that the company “knew or should have known (the driver) was sleep-deprived.”
These allegations have not been proven, but the statistics suggest the crash is something carriers should take seriously from a fitness for duty perspective. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says commercial drivers are the most likely group of people to drive drowsy, and a number of factors – from work schedules to undiagnosed sleep apnea – can contribute to this problem.
Fitness for duty is not just the responsibility of the driver, it’s a responsibility shared by employers too. Federal regulations in Canada require carriers prevent their driver from getting behind the wheel if his or her faculties are impaired to the point where it is unsafe; or if driving would jeopardize or be likely to jeopardize the safety or health of the public, the driver or the employees of the motor carrier. This means skipping rest stops, working too many hours, and not getting enough sleep are issues carriers need to address.
The Safety Risks Associated with Long Hours and Shift Work
The dangers of driving overnight are well documented, especially among truck drivers who work long shifts. Hours of service vary from province to province, but the federal Commercial Vehicle Drivers Hours of Service Regulations stipulate that no motor carrier can permit a driver to work more than 70 hours during a period of 7 days, and no driver is allowed to get behind the wheel after accumulating more than 13 hours of driving time in a single day.
The chart below shows the dangers of shift work as it relates to one’s internal body clock. You can see that accidents are more common overnight, a time when we mainly see commercial drivers out on the road.
One way to minimize the risks associated with driver fatigue is to conduct a scheduling analysis or shift-work review. The North American Fatigue Management Program (NAFMP), a multi-year collaborative project aimed at addressing the issue of driver fatigue, recently issued a set of guidelines around trip scheduling and fatigue management technologies to assist carriers in getting started with fatigue management.
The Safety Risks Associated with Sleep Apnea
According to the NAFMP, sleep apnea screening should also be a key component of a carrier’s fatigue management program. Approximately 28% of commercial drivers suffer from the sleep disorder, and many cases are undiagnosed.
Sleep apnea is a progressive illness, particularly as you age, and the risks associated with it can increase for certain populations. That’s why screening for sleep apnea once is not enough; there should be periodic re-screening based on age and other risk factors.
The first step to addressing sleep apnea is to enroll your drivers in a sleep apnea program. Choosing the right provider is critical to the success of your program. Check out our tips on how to find a program that ensures your drivers are properly diagnosed, treated, and returned to work safely.
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