Trucking experts: Sleep absolutely a driver-safety issue

Driver fatigue and sleep disorder experts Dr. Gerald P. Krueger, principal author of the Transportation Research Board’s report on Health and Wellness for Commercial Drivers, and Don Osterberg, sr. vp of safety for Schneider National, Inc. pulled no punches in their presentations on driver fatigue and safety this week during a free webcast

Driver fatigue and sleep disorder experts Dr. Gerald P. Krueger, principal author of the Transportation Research Board’s report on Health and Wellness for Commercial Drivers, and Don Osterberg, sr. vp of safety for Schneider National, Inc. pulled no punches in their presentations on driver fatigue and safety this week during a free webcast presented by Truckload Carriers Assn. and Fleet Owner and sponsored by ResMed. The bottom line: A de facto standard of care for fleets is emerging today concerning driver fatigue that simply cannot be ignored. The good news: The benefits for implementing a proactive driver fatigue management program just keep mounting.

Osterberg, who has become a recognized leader in the area of proactive fatigue management for the program he helped to initiate at Schneider National, shared the results of Schneider’s own study done in 2004 to 2006, which tracked 339 drivers with sleep apnea. The study evaluated the related safety performance and health care costs during the 12 months before drivers were treated for sleep apnea and the 12 months after treatment. According to Osterberg, preventable crashes were reduced by 30%; the median cost of crashes was reduced by 48%; the driver retention rate improved by 60% over the fleet average; and health care costs were reduced by over 50%, or by $539 per driver/per month, in the months following treatment.

An expanded study in 2006 that tracked 788 drivers saw similar results. Schneider National is currently engaged in yet another study with Harvard Medical School and others to validate the results from the company’s fatigue management program. “I am not saying that everyone should do what we are doing,” he noted, “but driver fatigue is an issue fleets can’t afford to ignore.”

Krueger, who has spent the past decade researching and instructing managers, commercial truck operators and even military medical doctors on fatigue, health, wellness and fitness, also stressed the importance of taking a practical and proactive approach to dealing with fatigue that involves everyone in a fleet organization, not just the drivers. “While managers can help certify HOS compliance, alertness while driving is much more complex than that,” he said.

According to Krueger, there are some 20 drowsy-driver behaviors that drivers can learn to identify as warning signals indicating the need for rest. They increase in severity from factors such as yawning, frequent blinking, head nodding and general drowsiness, to more serious indicators such as sporadic variations in speed, lost awareness of location, unknowingly passing planned highway exits or turn-off points, slow response time, lane deviations and even experiencing hallucinations.

Both speakers stressed the importance of taking a “holistic” approach to developing a successful sleep program. Key elements they identified include: employee education, screening and diagnosis of sleep disorders, treatment, compliance monitoring and coaching during treatment and outcome reporting.

“Don Osterberg’s and Dr. Krueger’s depth of knowledge on the subject of managing driver fatigue and sleep disorders is impressive, and their willingness to share their insights with the industry as a whole was much appreciated,” noted John Dykes, occupational health manager for ResMed.

The complete webcast is available for viewing online. Registration is required, but there is no fee to access it.

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