Drowsy Driving Prevention Week and Our Duty to Safety

We all know that drinking and driving or texting and driving can result in fatalities, but what about driving while tired? You might be surprised to learn that drowsy driving is the cause of 20 percent of all motor-vehicle crashes each year, and according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). In fact, each year in the United States more than 6,400 deaths and 50,000 serious injuries result from drowsy drivers.

What better time to talk about the dangers of sleepy drivers than during Drowsy Driving Prevention Week (Nov. 6-13) as the NSF aims to raise awareness of the dangers of driving while sleep-deprived, and to ultimately minimize sleep-deprived driving.

While driving under the influence is taken very seriously in the United States and often results in temporary if not permanent license suspension, it's unacceptable that so many deaths and often life-changing injuries are the result of completely avoidable circumstances.

Public Enemy Number One: Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
The occasional drowsy driver is scary enough, but what's especially concerning is that 12 percent of the U.S. population suffers from a common sleep disorder called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Sleep apnea is one of the most significant threats to Americans' safety on the road -- whether by train, bus, or car -- because it especially common in truckers, bus drivers, and train conductors. For example, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) estimates that nearly 30 percent of commercial truck drivers suffer from OSA.

Individuals suffering from OSA experience intermittent airway blockages that cause shortened breaths or pauses in breathing during sleep for seconds or minutes. The result is body movements, gasps or snoring, and potentially waking up throughout the night. Needless to say, this prevents restful sleep -- whether the individual affected realizes it or not. Often, individuals suffering from OSA aren't even aware they have the condition, and go through life thinking it's normal to feel tired, irritable, and just "off."

That's an especially dangerous consideration of OSA -- how often it is undetected. Last year, Frost & Sullivan and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine estimated that of the 29.4 million Americans suffering from OSA, 23.5 million (80 percent) were undiagnosed. Pair that with the statistic that drivers with untreated OSA are five times more likely to be involved in preventable crashes, and the consequences can have enormous consequences -- both in terms of human lives and financial ramifications. Safety decision makers must understand what OSA is costing their businesses.

How Much OSA is Costing You
Outside of transportation specifically, tired workers mean lost productivity and are estimated to cost employers up to $3,100 per employee each year. But fatigued drivers are especially costly -- they cause more collisions, which lead to higher insurance premiums, unexpected repair costs, lost time on the road, and potentially lawsuits -- all which subsequently result in less revenue. According to a University of California study, OSA-related motor-vehicle accidents can cost about $16 billion in damage in a single year. The good news: That same study indicates that testing and treating all drivers suffering from OSA would reduce collision costs by about $12 billion and save almost 1,000 lives each year.

Making OSA Less Obstructive to Your Business
If you're a decision maker in occupational safety looking to ensure the safety and well-being of your employees, as well as the people around them, there are a few simple, affordable, and relatively quick steps you can take.

First, understand the issue and the research available. The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine indicates that every $1.00 spent on treating sleep apnea saves $3.49 (nearly 250 percent) in collision claims, and that treating sleep apnea saves about $6,000 per driver per year in medical claims, in addition to improving driver retention by as much as 55 percent. If you could invest in safety with a return-on-investment (ROI) of about 250 percent and additional savings and employee retention, wouldn't you?

Second, evaluate your options. The cost of diagnosis has decreased exponentially over the years. The days of $3,000 sleep lab tests requiring in-person visits and overnight stays are over. At-home tests now cost as little as $250 and are just as effective. As a bonus, testing at home means that drivers don't have to take off of work to schedule lab visits and can do it at a time that is convenient to them.

Third, support your employees in treatment. Consider offering your employees complimentary treatment or more flexible working schedules as they decide the treatment options that work best for them. Let them know that treating their OSA isn't just good for the business's bottom line, but for their personal and physical well-being, as well. The most common form of treatment is a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask, which can take some getting used to but is extremely effective. According to experts in the field, CPAP is often 100 percent effective in treating OSA among patients complying with treatment.

Wake Up
For all intents and purposes, a sleep-deprived driver is an unsafe driver. Much like drunk drivers, sleep-deprived drivers cause thousands of deaths each year. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), losing just two hours of sleep is similar to drinking three beers, and being awake for over 20 hours is equivalent to being legally drunk. For just $250, employers can test for OSA and identify and treat employees at risk. The cost of testing and treatment can easily be paid for in the resulting savings on collision costs, insurance claims, and lost time on the road. As we sometimes forget in our never-ending quests to improve the bottom line: Proactive is almost always less costly than reactive.

Michael Trufant is the Business Unit Manager - Industrial Markets for Aeroflow Healthcare. For more information on industrial OSA treatment programs, visit https://industrial.aeroflowinc.com/.

Posted on Nov 08, 2017

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