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Should truck drivers be tested for sleep apnea?

The results of a 2018 survey found that half of commercial truck drivers suffer from breathing disorders that could make them more susceptible to falling asleep at the wheel. This startling insight, gained through a survey of over 900 Italian truck drivers, has prompted many to call for routine testing of breathing disorders, particularly obstructive sleep apnoea.

Luca Roberti, in response to this survey, made an appeal to European haulage companies in a presentation at the European Respiratory Society international congress, “considering that drivers are in charge of transport vehicles weighing several tons, companies have a great moral and civic responsibility to ensure their employees are safe to drive and are not at risk of suddenly falling asleep at the wheel.”

Similar statistics have been recorded in an Australian context, with a study in Sleep found that 41% of truck drivers suffer from OSA. Some of the contributing factors to this are the demography of Australian truck drivers, who are overwhelmingly male, overweight or obese, and 40+, all of which a risk factors for the development of OSA.

Research has shown that a driver who is deprived of sleep due to OSA may be up to 12 times more likely to be involved in a driving accident.

The good news is that routine screenings followed by appropriate treatment can be a highly effective way to address this issue. A 2016 study in the Journal of Sleep Medicine showed that truck drivers with OSA who receive treatment for two years may be able to reduce their crash-risk to that of truck drivers without OSA.

You can access the article “Assessing sleepiness and sleep disorders in Australian long-distance commercial vehicle drivers: self-report versus an “at home” monitoring device” in Sleep here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3296788/

You can access the article “Screening, diagnosis, and management of obstructive sleep apnea in dangerous-goods truck drivers: to be aware or not?” in the Journal of Sleep Medicine here: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2016.05.015

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