They snooze, we all lose

There's more than a few reasons truck drivers nod off behind the wheel, but one that's garnered lots of attention in recent years is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Ok, sleep apnea as a topic is no mug of Joe. But before you hit the snooze button, consider that while OSA has been seriously targeted as a safety and wellness issue for truckers and their families and for the motorists traveling around

There's more than a few reasons truck drivers nod off behind the wheel, but one that's garnered lots of attention in recent years is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Ok, sleep apnea as a topic is no mug of Joe. But before you hit the snooze button, consider that while OSA has been seriously targeted as a safety and wellness issue for truckers and their families — and for the motorists traveling around them — have you ever heard it discussed as a potentially nasty legal liability issue?

I hadn't until a wakeup call came courtesy of Carlsbad, CA-based Advanced Brain Monitoring Inc. (ABM), which fields patented technologies to address sleep apnea, memory dysfunction and alertness monitoring.

According to the firm's president, Daniel Levendowski, truck drivers must now ensure they are fit for duty not just to be socially responsible, but to avoid tort liability and possibly even jail time should their untreated sleep apnea result in an accident.

Two articles co-authored by Levendowski and Donald L. Carper, professor emeritus of the College of Business at California State University, and published earlier this year in Sleep Diagnosis and Therapy, present their OSA research results and frame an argument that the legal ramifications of ignoring OSA are significant.

In their study, the authors found that as many as 50% of transportation workers studied had undiagnosed OSA. That is surely not surprising given the well-documented — and remarked upon — sedentary lifestyle and tendency towards obesity afflicting many American truck drivers.

Furthermore, says Levendowski, ABM's research “suggests the high prevalence of OSA, combined with an increasingly older and heavier commercial driver population, requires specific and actionable steps to preserve the safety of the U.S. motoring public.”

“Parties in the trucking industry have not paid sufficient attention to the risk of undiagnosed OSA,” argues Carper. “Drivers, their employers and clinicians all have potential legal exposure resulting from undiagnosed OSA. The overall awareness of OSA, its seriousness and attendant risks, has reached the point that ignoring this problem will undoubtedly carry a high price in the future.”

ABM has developed what it touts as an inexpensive and accurate means of identifying drivers with the likelihood of having mild, moderate or severe OSA. The tool, called the ARES Screener, is a questionnaire backed by statistical analysis. Drivers can complete the questionnaire online to see if they are at risk.

Those the screening system deems at risk wear a “unicorder” at home during sleep to obtain the information necessary for a physician to diagnose OSA. Levendowski says the device can be conveniently self-applied and worn while the driver is sleeping, even in the cab of a truck.

The really good news in all this is that once a driver is diagnosed with OSA, points out Dr. Philip Westbrook, past-president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and ABM's chief medical officer, “it is a relatively easy and inexpensive disease to diagnose and effectively treat.

“Immediate cost savings are recognized a result of improved driver health, more than enough to cover the cost for diagnosis and treatment within six months,” continues Westbrook.

A complete copy of the published articles, “Assessment of Obstructive Sleep Apnea Risk and Severity in Truck Drivers: Validation of a Screening Questionnaire” and “Assessment of Obstructive Sleep Apnea Risk and Severity in Truck Drivers: Commentary on the Legal Implications for Ignoring a National Safety Concern,” are available at ABM's website: www.b-alert.com.

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