Warning to Managers of Sleep Apnoea Risk to Drivers

Sleep apnoea risks

07.08.2007

07/08/2007

Recent figures reveal that up to 86% of drivers have got behind the wheel when tired or had actually nodded off whilst driving.

The report compiled by Norwich Union found that people who drive tired could be just as dangerous as drink drivers.

General fatigue and tiredness can both impact a person's ability to drive safely but in some cases such symptoms could be as a result of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA), a condition in which the throat is sucked closed during sleep.

The condition impacts employers as it poses a risk to company drivers. Increased awareness of OSA is therefore essential in ensuring that fleet managers are vigilant when complaints of tiredness are made by drivers.

Sleep specialists, Respironics, also conducted research which showed that as many as one in six, or 80,000 UK heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers suffer from the disorder.

OSA symptoms include excessive daytime sleepiness or, in extreme circumstances, falling asleep during the day.

OSA sufferers also experience restless sleep, loud snoring with periods of silence followed by gasps, morning headaches, trouble concentrating due to lack of restful sleep, irritability, forgetfulness and mood or behaviour changes due to poor sleep patterns over long periods.

People with such symptoms should contact their GP for medical advice. OSA Online has also been set up to provide information which includes an online self assessment test.

David Urpeth, a Partner at Irwin Mitchell solicitors, specialises in workplace injury accidents. He commented For many years, people having road accidents whilst driving during the course of their work, considered the accident a road accident. In reality, such accidents are also workplace accidents. Employers are under a legal duty to provide a safe place of work which includes assessing the risks faced by those people who drive for a living. One of those risks is the risk of sleep apnoea.

Drivers are not only at risk of sleep apnoea, but also of falling asleep due to excessive working hours before driving or driving for too long a distance. Employers must accept that driving carries potentially lethal risks and as such, those risks must be carefully and properly managed.