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FMCSA, FRA withdraw rulemaking on obstructive sleep apnea

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Washington – The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration have withdrawn an advance notice of proposed rulemaking on obstructive sleep apnea.

“The agencies … believe that current safety programs and FRA’s rulemaking addressing fatigue risk management are the appropriate avenues to address OSA,” FMCSA and FRA stated in a notice published in the Aug. 4 Federal Register.

FMCSA will continue to endorse the voluntary North American Fatigue Management Program to commercial motor vehicle drivers and employers. The agency also indicated that it might update its Bulletin to Medical Examiners and Training Organizations Regarding Obstructive Sleep Apnea, first released in January 2015.

Meanwhile, the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 states that railroads must institute fatigue management plans as part of Risk Reduction Programs or System Safety Programs.

The Federal Register notice also notes that “several railroads are implementing OSA identification and treatment programs.”

FMCSA and FRA issued the joint ANPRM in March 2016, citing OSA-related truck and train incidents investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board. The agencies sought to gather data and information on moderate to severe sleep apnea among workers in safety-sensitive positions in highway and rail transportation. They also wanted to look at the benefits and costs of any regulations, such as requiring drivers with multiple OSA risk factors to go through evaluation and treatment by a sleep disorders medical expert.

Sleep apnea affects about 22 million people in the United States, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association, and 80 percent of moderate to severe OSA cases are undiagnosed. OSA is caused when the airway is blocked and normal breathing is interrupted. It can lead to increased drowsiness when awake, causing drivers to be less alert and reactive.

“OSA remains an ongoing concern for the agencies and the motor carrier and railroad industries because it can cause unintended sleep episodes and resulting deficits in attention, concentration, situational awareness and memory, thus reducing the capacity to safely respond to hazards when performing safety sensitive duties,” the notice states.

A recent study from researchers at the University of California, San Francisco concluded that 41 percent of CMV drivers could have OSA. In addition, a University of Minnesota, Morris study published in March 2016 determined that CMV drivers with OSA who did not stick to their prescribed treatment were five times more likely to experience a crash than drivers without OSA.

The 2016 study “emphasizes that untreated obstructive sleep apnea is a pervasive threat to transportation safety,” American Academy of Sleep Medicine President Dr. Nathaniel Watson – whose organization was not part of the study – said in a press release issued shortly after the study’s release. “It is critical for transportation companies to implement comprehensive sleep apnea screening and treatment programs to ensure that truck drivers stay awake at the wheel.”

The OSA screenings, however, proved expensive for drivers, according to a survey conducted from March to May 2016 by the American Transportation Research Institute, the research arm of the Arlington, VA-based American Trucking Associations. Fifty-three percent of CMV operators who were part of a sleep study paid an average of $1,220 in out-of-pocket costs.

The results of the survey also showed that 84 percent of drivers who used a CPAP machine experienced better sleep, 75 percent said they had lower blood pressure and 71 percent reported feeling better when they awoke.

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