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Risk in Context

4 Ways to Limit Sleep Apnea Risks in Your Workplace

Posted by Paul Baute March 05, 2018

The National Transportation Safety Board announced on February 6 that sleep apnea played a direct role in two recent commuter rail crashes. The revelation has led many leaders, including Senator Chuck Schumer and the NTSB’s chairman, to question why a proposed federal rule on screening train crews for sleep apnea was withdrawn in August. That’s especially important because the rail industry is not alone in its struggle to mitigate sleep apnea risks.

An Eye-Opening Workplace Safety Hazard

An estimated 22 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea, a leading cause of daytime drowsiness. Symptoms include loud snoring, morning headaches and nausea, gasping or choking while sleeping, frequent nighttime urination, and disturbed sleep. Employees with sleep apnea are more likely to experience excessive daytime sleepiness, irritability, stress, diabetes, and/or feelings of depression, and concentration/memory problems, which can affect their workplace performance and behavior.

Employees suffering from sleep apnea and sleep deprivation may expose your organization to increased risk and liability. Here are four steps your organization can take to aid any employees facing sleep apnea issues:

Diet and Nutrition

Weight is a significant contributing factor to sleep apnea, which can be managed by improving everyday diet and nutrition. A first step can be scheduling meal breaks into the employee’s day that provide time to consume nutritional meals rather than quick or unhealthy snacks. Additionally, employees should be educated about the effects alcohol, energy drinks, caffeine, and sleeping pills can have on their sleep apnea.

Sleep Quality

Excessive travel, unpredictable work schedules, and poor sleeping conditions can result in insufficient sleep. To improve the quality of your employee’s sleep, provide guidance on what types of beds, pillows, and room temperature may be best for their sleep style. Additionally, employees who work odd hours or shifts may find eye shades or blackout curtains helpful in preventing excessive light.

Stress Relief

Long hours at work or a difficult home situation can result in increased stress levels and sleep apnea among your employees. Exercise programs can help improve your employees’ fitness and provide a healthy coping mechanism for stress relief. Additionally, stretching exercises during work hours can help employees remain focused and prevent physical injury.

Sleep Studies

To date, no regulations have been passed regarding sleep apnea in any industry. However, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has issued guidelines to medical professionals regarding sleep apnea testing during commercial drivers’ required biannual medical recertification. Medical professionals themselves are increasingly concerned about potential liability if these sleep studies are not performed. Given these guidelines, employers may find it prudent to require sleep studies for any employee at risk for sleep apnea. These medically-supervised studies do not even need to be conducted at a medical facility, but can instead be done in the comfort of the employee’s home.

Taking these simple steps should help improve your employees’ quality of life while potentially reducing workplace injuries, protecting public safety, and keeping your total cost of casualty risk under control.

Paul Baute