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November 1st, 2016 | Debbie Lamb, Sterling Talent Solutions

On the Road Again: Sleep Apnea Policy Reviewed For Truck Drivers

On the Road Again: Sleep Apnea Policy Reviewed For Truck Drivers | Sterling

Every day millions of trucks are on the road transporting everything from livestock to electronics to large industrial pieces. Some drivers are on short day trips while others are long-haul drivers who travel across states. As a child, I was always fascinated by the “big rigs” and how drivers were free to see the wonders of the country. I didn’t realize until I was older how vital these trucks and their drivers are in transporting goods and services in the United States.

Because of their importance in our country’s commerce, motor vehicles carriers and transportation companies are a highly regulated industry. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires drivers to get physical exams every two years to ensure they are physically qualified to operate commercial vehicles. The exam measures height and weight; tests vision, hearing, blood pressure and urine; assesses medical history and sets certain standards for driver’s health.

Sleep Apnea and Truck Drivers

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently issued a report “Evaluating the Safety Sensitive Personnel for Moderate-to-Severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea” detailing the effects of sleep apnea on transportation workers. The American Journal of Industrial Medicine, in conjuncture with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), detailed in a 2014 report that U.S. long-haul truck drivers were twice as likely to be obese compared to other occupations, as well as more likely to smoke and suffer from other risk factors of a chronic diseases such as sleep apnea. This disorder causes pauses in breathing or shallow breaths when you sleep moving a person from deep sleep into light sleep. Sleep apnea affects the quality of sleep, which makes a person tired throughout the day. According to research, sleep apnea is more common in people who are overweight. This sleeping issue can be dangerous and detrimental for long-haul truck drivers.

An Appeals court recently delivered a ruling on a court case relating to motor carrier drivers, medical examinations and sleep apnea. Crete Courier Corporation requires its drivers with a body mass index of 35 or higher to submit to a medical examination to determine whether they had disruptive sleep apnea. A truck driver refused to take the test and accordingly was given less work to do. The driver sued the company under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) saying the examination is discriminating on the basis of perceived disability. In Parker v. Crete Carrier Corp., et al, the district court found for Crete Corporation and the driver appealed the ruling.

In the appeals process, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeal also found for Crete Corporation noting that an employer requiring a particular class of employees to get medical examinations must show that the exam is job-related and is a “business necessity“. There must be a reasonable basis for concluding that the class of drivers required to be examined poses a genuine safety risk and the exam must enable the employer to reduce the risk. The court stated that Crete’s suspension did not violate the ADA because the employee refused to submit to a lawful medical exam. The required sleep study requirement for overweight drivers was a “business necessity.”

Effect on Background Screening for Truck Driving Industry

The Appeals Court ruling could influence how trucking companies screen future employees based on certain health factors and if they will directly affect driving performance. Employers in the motor vehicle carrier industry should pay attention to changes in the law related to driver testing requirements and ensure the driver testing policies for a subset of drivers would constitute a business necessity in the eyes of the court. The Department of Transportation already has many mandated employment background screening and drug and health screening policies, but new laws could add to the tests that will be required to drive long-haul trucks. Having the right employee background screening company to maintain, manage and monitor the many mandates required for background checks for the transportation industry is a must. Find out more about the many aspects of background screening in our eBook, Background Screening 101.

This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.