When it comes to safety and transportation, sleep apnea is becoming a hot topic. From commercial truck drivers to airline pilots, regulatory agencies are beginning to treat sleep apnea as a medical condition that can disqualify someone from performing these jobs. Sleep apnea, which is a disordered breathing sleep disorder, can impact sleep quality and result in excessive daytime sleepiness. Considering that the drivers who navigate our Mack trucks and the pilots who fly our planes play a big role in ensuring the safety of hundreds of people, recent moves to require sleep apnea screening make sense in the context of public safety.
The first move toward identifying and disqualifying those with sleep apnea came from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA). Although the medical standards that each driver must meet are set and administered at the state level, there are many states that have chosen to use the regulations set forth by the FMCSA which currently lists sleep apnea as a disqualifying condition. This means that if a commercial driver is diagnosed with sleep apnea in a state where the state regulations list it as a disqualifying condition or in a state that has adopted the FMCSA regulations, that driver cannot be allowed by their company to operate a commercial motor vehicle.
Currently, the FMCSA believes that about 28% of commercial drivers have sleep apnea. Commercial drivers who suspect they might have sleep apnea are urged to speak with their doctor so that they can get diagnosed and treated. Those with the condition who are following a treatment plan administered by their physician can be cleared to continue driving.
Now the Federal Aviation Association has jumped on the bandwagon with the recent announcement that special requirements will be issued for pilots and air traffic controllers that are overweight. Because obesity and being overweight can increase the chances of having obstructive sleep apnea, the FAA will soon be requiring pilots and air traffic controllers who are overweight to submit to sleep apnea screening in order to maintain their certification.
As with the FMCSA, the FAA is concerned that pilots and air traffic controllers with this sleep disorder may be suffering from excessive daytime sleepiness which can result in falling asleep inappropriately, like while flying a plane. Once these regulations are in place, all pilots and air traffic controllers with a BMI of 40 or more will have to be evaluated by a board certified sleep specialist in order to be medically certified to do their job. Without that certification, pilots will be grounded and air traffic controllers will not be allowed to work.
While these actions are being taken in the interest of public safety, it is also beneficial to the pilots, air traffic controller, and commercial drivers who have the condition to get diagnosed and begin treatment as soon as possible. The negative effects of this disorder over the long term can have very serious health consequences for people who aren’t even aware that they have the condition.