Insights on a Regulation

Ruling or Not, Here it Comes..

Originally Written June 2010

There has been a constant buzz lately surrounding sleep apnea and how it will affect the trucking industry. Most of the mental energy seems to be focused on the possibility of an impending ruling or mandate coming down from the FMCSA to address the issue. Whether they are addressing the issue at large, at the company program level or even worries with issuing driver cards, everyone seems focused on where the overall liability and payment for such a ruling will ultimately lie.

It seems every day at our company, Sleep Access LLC, we take calls and answer these same questions regarding the state of the industry. “Is there a ruling coming?”, “When and how will this all be taking effect?” and “How can I avoid this being a major issue for me or my company?” are some of the most common things we are asked. Allow me to supply what insight I can, for your personal and corporate peace of mind, but the answer to these and other questions might just shock you.

Is there a ruling coming? And when and how will this be taking effect? What is unclear, currently, is the EXACT form and scope the potential ruling(s) are going to take. Most estimates and concerns in regard to a federal ruling or guidance are being directed towards the standardization of protocols to utilize for screening your entire fleet. The key components will be compliance driven testing for the warning signs of prevalence towards having Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). There have been speculations on BMI (Body Mass Index) levels used for compliance benchmarks and other sleep health industry screening guidelines to come but nothing, as of yet, is concrete. What IS clear is that ruling or not, screening, testing, effective treatment for those positive for OSA, and monitoring for driver compliance to treatment is going to affect you as a company and a driver.

What we DO know is that OSA will be addressed in the near future. Most would assume that by this I am only referring to the announcement that was made by an FMCSA representative in the May 17, 2010 issue of Transport Topics. While this is a clear cut and precise declaration that OSA should be on the Trucking Industry radar, there are other signs that should make it a more pressing issue from the industry perspective.

As we all know the DOT doctor database is transitioning to a new system in October of this year. What may not be as widely known is that with the database change comes a new set of standards of care for DOT physicians concerning many issues; including OSA. Liabilities for driver safety have already started and will be more heavily placed on the shoulders of the DOT Doctor who passes a driver without flagging OSA risk issues. By putting the responsibility back on the shoulders of the physicians’ and their own liability insurance, the industry is poised to have a lot more driver sleep tests in the coming years.

So you’ve talked about drivers and DOT Doctors, but what about the trucking company itself? Do we as Trucking Companies have any skin in the game? The short answer is yes, but it may not be the typical ‘liabilities’ centered yes that you may be expecting. The reasoning can be summed up in one word: Drivers.

It may not look like it or necessarily feel like it right now but the economy will rebound. Since this country’s goods are primarily carried by truck, that increased economic activity will bring with it an increase in trucking capacities. Over the last few years this industry has lost a lot of drivers to the down economy and the decrease in demand. With the increase in cost to drive that OSA will bring for so many drivers in the industry we stand to lose a lot more as well. Companies use all means necessary and legal to attract drivers during a shortage and according to most national estimates we are poised for a sizable one in the very near future. With all the options available to a company, the best way to attract a driver is showing them you really care about their health, safety and overall happiness out on the road. One of the best ways to do this is by offering a realistic solution for detecting and treating OSA. Some of the known benefits include:

  • Increase in Rest & Metabolism
  • Increase in Alertness & Concentration
  • Decrease in Weight
  • Decrease in other health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease & stroke.
  • Increase in emotional stability

All of those reasons add up to savings on the company side as well. Industry analysts hold that treating OSA in your company can yield increased retention, decreased healthcare costs, decreased accidents, as well as a decrease in the cost per accident.

This leaves just one question to answer: “How can I keep OSA from becoming a major issue to me or my company?” The best answer for this is simple. Don’t wait for a rule, address it now. The sooner you address the need for a sleep health solution in your company the better off you and your employees will be when actual rules are laid out. If you are pro-active now you can reduce the headaches, frustration and any negative impacts that possible rulemaking or guidelines may have on you in the future. Then, while other companies struggle to cope with adapting to new legislation, you can continue to focus on what you got in this industry to do, Trucking.

This article originally appeared in the Summmer 2010 issue of the IMTA Lifeliner Magazine

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