On April 28, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced three public listening sessions to solicit information the on the issue of moderate-to-severe obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) among individuals in safety sensitive positions and of its potential consequences for the for the safety of highway and rail transportation.  FMSCA and FRA are also requesting information on the potential costs and benefits of developing regulatory guidance regarding the safety risks associated with motor carrier and rail transportation workers who have OSA. 

Impact on Trucking Industry

FMSCA already denies drivers who have severe diabetes, seizures and implanted defibrillators.  These listening sessions indicate that OSA is likely to be the next medical condition to be regulated. Also relevant to the issue is the National Transpiration Safety Board’s (NTSB) publication of its annual “Most Wanted” wherein reducing fatigue-related accidents is listed as one of the 2016 goals.  In literature publicized by the NTSB:

“Human fatigue is a both a symptom of poor sleep and health management, and an enabler of other impairments, such as poor judgment and decision making, delayed reaction times, and loss of situational awareness and control.  Fatigue degrades a person’s ability to stay awake, alert and attentive to the demands of controlling their vehicle safety.”

Sleep experts say most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night for optimum performance, health and safety.  A considerable amount of research on this subject has been done over the last two decades however, not much has been done to implement solutions. 

The transportation industry as a whole, including motor carrier companies of all sizes can anticipate new regulations and compliance guidance from both the NTSB and the FMSCA.  Regulations may be put in place to identify high-risk drivers that could include a medical screening requirement for sleep apnea.  Doctors cannot independently diagnose OSA through a physical exam or blood test.  The diagnosis is typically made based on medical and family histories, patient identification of OSA, and sleep studies.  Therefore, we can anticipate that government agencies may identify physical standards that could require a driver to undergo an OSA physical to be cleared to drive.  What could those physical standards include?  Height and body weight ratio, neck circumference? It is too soon to know.

Regulations regarding implementing equipment to trucks could also be addressed in new guidance.  For example, tamper-proof electronic logging devices that collect data on driver hours of service to ensure both the carrier and the regulator have access to monitor and assess hours-of-service compliance could become mandatory.  There may other in-vehicle technologies on the horizon as well.

Lastly, it is a given that companies will have to establish a fatigue risk management program and continually monitor those programs to confirm driver compliance.  These compliance programs will likely include policies or practices to address driver scheduling, attendance, education, medical screening and treatment, driver personal responsibility during non-work periods, and rest environments.

What can you do?

The next listening session is scheduled for May 25 from 10 AM to 12 PM and 1:30 PM to 3:30PM.  Both sessions can be viewed via webcast.  Click here for information on how to access the webcasts. Written comments may submitted through the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov or mailed to the address below or faxed to 202-493-2251.  All submissions must be identified by Docket Numbers FMCSA-2015-0419 and FRA-2015-0111.

Docket Management Facility

U.S. Department of Transportation

Room W12-140

1200 Jersey Avenue SE

Washington, DC 20590-0001

Ultimately, we know the government is seeking to significantly reduce fatigue-related accidents by implementing a combination of science-based regulations, comprehensive fatigue risk management programs, and individual responsibility.  Targeting OSA, in the government’s view, is clearly a significant element of solving the issue.  All companies across the motor carrier industry should take heed and be prepared for regulatory changes regarding OSA.

Our Trucking Industry Team will continue to follow this developing news.