Driver wellness is an increasingly important issue. It is recognized as such in the report from the CTA Blue Ribbon Task Force on the Driver Shortage.
And, it is behind the motivation for CTA developing a testing and treatment program for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) amongst truck drivers. Yes, we were also concerned about what would happen to Canadian cross-border carriers if the Americans moved to regulate sleep apnea testing and treatment.
We don’t want the industry left high and dry, such as it was when drug testing was introduced in the 1990s. And of course we were concerned about the growing number of post-accident lawsuits being aimed at carriers where sleep apnea is a factor.
But there was more to it than that. The major reason was a strong feeling that it was the right thing to do – that by getting a driver with OSA into a program, not only would a company be able to retain a productive and valued employee, but you could give that driver his life back. What could be better than that in terms retaining good drivers? The carrier’s motivation is not to identify drivers with OSA to weed them out; just the opposite, in fact.
CTA has partnered with OSA Canada (program administrator) and Precision Pulmonary Diagnostics, a Texas-based company which has already screened over 40,000 drivers in the US, to develop a full-service program created exclusively to assist Canadian trucking fleets in implementing, administering and monitoring obstructive sleep apnea programs for all of their commercial drivers.
With growing evidence of a return on investment, some carriers have voluntarily established an OSA program for their drivers or are looking at doing so. Others will wait for government to regulate. And, this is likely to happen sooner than later, at least in the US.
In a speech in September, Anne Ferro, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), confirmed what most of us already knew – the agency is busy working on new sleep apnea guidelines, to be introduced by December of this year. The guidelines are very likely a precursor to a regulation mandating OSA testing and treatment.
Regardless of whether a carrier is planning to voluntarily adopt an OSA program or wait until the requirement for such a program is mandated, there are a number of questions that carriers should also be asking themselves and potential service providers. Here are some of the key ones:
If I adopt a sleep apnea program, will I run afoul of Canadian labour laws or union contracts?: You could if you don’t design your human resource policy correctly. Will the sleep apnea firm knocking on your door assist you with that? The CTA-OSA Canada program is already working with a leading national law firm to ensure that these issues are properly addressed.
How am I going to screen all my drivers for obstructive sleep apnea?: You could use the Canadian medical system. However, the average wait time for an appointment with a sleep clinic ranges dramatically from province to province.
In some provinces the wait time for an initial appointment can be four to six weeks in regions where the services are underutilized. In the more populated areas where demand is high, wait times can easily extend to six months or more.
Moreover, in the overnight clinics, two separate appointments are required to obtain an initial diagnosis and prescription.
The CTA-OSA Canada program does not rely on sleep clinics. In fact, those drivers that need to be tested never have to leave their own bed. Drivers are screened at your facilities, tested using the latest mobile diagnostic equipment, and if diagnosed with OSA they are equipped with a CPAP machine and mask, all within 72 hours.
Okay, I’ve tested my drivers and identified those with sleep apnea and equipped them with the appropriate machine; I’m done right?: No. The sleep apnea program supplier should be providing you with a monitoring system that will be fully compliant with both US and Canadian legal requirements.
If you are not monitoring compliance (in other words, you are not sure if the driver is complying with the prescribed treatment) you are leaving your fleet exposed.
OSA Canada will offer clients multiple monitoring options and personal assistance to ensure compliance. (Let’s say, for example, the CPAP mask doesn’t fit your driver. No problem. OSA Canada will keep fitting him and replace the mask if required to make sure he is comfortable and using the equipment).
Does my maintenance shop need experts who can fix these machines and deal with maintenance issues?: Not with the CTA-OSA program. If there’s a problem with the machine or mask, they’ll be replaced, no questions asked. And, they have a scheduled maintenance program, which means no inventories and fuss or worries for you or the drivers.
There are no doubt many other questions you will be asking yourself when planning your OSA testing and treatment program and choosing a service provider to work with. If you would like to find out more about CTA’s program, contact OSA Canada by calling 289-337-9629 or by visiting www.osacan.com.