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Railroad Engineers Being Tested for Sleep Apnea

Posted On May 28, 2015
May 28, 2015

In recent years sleep apnea has become a hot button issue for transportation departments. It started when Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) implemented regulations that truck drivers be tested for sleep apnea. When the FMCSA began testing they found that over 17% of truck drivers had obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It seemed logical to implement such regulation for the drivers themselves and public that they share the road with.

It wasn’t long after that regulation was passed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) followed suit. Both a pilot and co-pilot fell asleep and missed their destination due to their sleep apnea. The plane did land safely and no one was injured thankfully, but it was enough for the FAA to make sleep apnea testing mandatory for pilots.

Now the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is asking the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to start testing their engineers. The NTSB has identified sleep apnea as a major transportation safety issue, which can increase the risk of a motor vehicle accident by up to seven-fold. In the past 15 years, undiagnosed or untreated obstructive sleep apnea likely caused a dozen accidents, including four involving railroads, the NTSB said.

The FRA asked Metro North to be their case study. In December 2013, Metro-North engineer William Rockefeller apparently fell asleep at the controls before his train derailed in the Bronx, killing four passengers and injuring more than 60. Rockefeller, who had recently changed to a different shift, was later diagnosed with sleep apnea. Many changes in work shifts can lead to Shift-Work Syndrome. Shift-Work Syndrome raises ones chances for sleep disorders significantly, sleep apnea included.

Metro-North gave physical examinations to 320 of their engineers, based on that screening 84 were likely to have sleep apnea and sent for additional testing. Sleep diagnostics proved that around 18% of Metro-North’s engineers had sleep apnea. After the study it seems likely that the FRA will start build sleep apnea testing regulations for all Railroad systems.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder defined as the unconscious stoppage of breathing for short periods of time throughout a night’s sleep. With OSA, there is a soft tissue obstruction of the upper airway, which negatively impacts the flow of air. Pauses in breathing can be just a few seconds to minutes, and occur as little as five to as many as 30 times per hour. OSA is further characterized as a partial reduction (hypopnea) to complete pauses (apnea) in breathing that can last longer than 10 seconds.

With no or little air freely flowing to the lungs, there is a decrease in oxygen levels in the blood. Therefore, if not diagnosed or treated, it comes as no surprise that OSA is a debilitating and life-shortening condition that can impact a person’s life. Sleep apnea can lead to many of serious medical conditions such as:

• High blood pressure, stroke and heart attack
• Obesity and diabetes.
• Coronary artery disease, heart rhythm issues and even heart failure.

Currently 8 out of every 10 people with sleep apnea are undiagnosed. You can understand why your physician is interested in find out if you have sleep apnea. Early diagnosis and treatment of sleep apnea will reduce your risk for more fatal conditions listed above.

If you suspect you might have sleep apnea, been diagnosed or would like to find out how you can avoid the high risk of developing other conditions, contact one of our medical concierges today at 1-855-863-4537 to schedule a consultation.

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