NTSB
The accident in September 2016 in New Jersey, killed one person and injured 110. (Photo: NTSB)

NTSB renews call for sleep apnea testing as part of investigation of rail accidents

Federal investigators renewed a call to require sleep apnea screening for transportation workers as it issued a report on two recent rail accidents.

Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), said he was “extremely disturbed” the Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in August chose to withdraw a 2016 advance notice of proposed rulemaking regarding sleep apnea treatment for highway and rail transportation employees.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition that disrupts sleep repeatedly through the night and has been shown to cause daytime drowsiness.

NTSB said it has recommended screening employees in safety-sensitive positions for sleep apnea since 2001.

“The reiterated recommendations on sleep apnea screening and treatment speak for themselves. The broader issues of reducing fatigue-related accidents and demanding medical fitness are both on NTSB’s Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements. Once more, these accidents remind us why,” said Sumwalt.

NTSB said in both incidents engineers slammed into posts at train stations at a high rate of speed. Each one had undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that disrupts sleep repeatedly through the night and has been shown to cause daytime drowsiness, according to NTSB’s report. One person died and more than 200 were injured as a result.

NTSB also noted the railroads involved had received exemption from positive train control on terminal tracks.

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