KING CITY, Ont. — Though no one in the audience was actually asleep, a statistic presented at the driver fatigue seminar at the 2014 PMTC convention was a real eye-opener: more than 28% of truck drivers have sleep apnea, the sleep disorder that interrupts breathing while sleeping.
Those who have sleep apnea may not even be aware they stop breathing sometimes hundreds of times during the night and often, if a partner doesn’t realize this (loud snoring is often a sign), it goes undiagnosed. Because of the extended periods where one’s body stops breathing, it may mean the brain and rest of the body may not be getting enough oxygen, which can lead to high blood pressure, and increased chance of heart attack and stroke.
Those at risk for sleep apnea are males who are overweight and over the age of 40 – sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Truck drivers fit this description to a tee so it’s not that surprising that almost one in three suffer from the disorder.
David Marvin, director of transportation at Praxair was the speaker of the seminar, and explained how sleep apnea testing is mandatory for Praxair drivers in the US. For those who think they may have sleep apnea, they fill out a questionnaire, then Praxair will set up a consultation with a sleep doctor, followed by an overnight stay in a sleep lab. If an employee does indeed have sleep apnea, the next step is to get them on a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine.
“This testing will be voluntary for drivers in Canada starting in July,” added Marvin.
For the other 72% who don’t suffer from sleep apnea, driver fatigue could still be a safety concern.
During the seminar, Marvin outlined how Praxair is going above and beyond the industry standard to protect and educate its drivers on this often-ignored issue and explained why other fleets should be following suit.
“We are often not good judges of how fatigued we are,” said Marvin. “This is because in the past we regulated hours that we worked instead of hours we slept. The more a driver could get completed in a day, the higher they were regarded.”
He asked the crowd if anyone in the audience had ever driven while they knew they were clearly tired and fatigued and almost every hand in the room went up – not surprising as a recent study shows that drivers in North America average less than five hours of sleep per night.
If that isn’t scary enough, Marvin played several videos of the dangers of driving while fatigued. An in-cab, forward-facing camera showed a driver drifting into another lane because he didn’t know how tired he was. Luckily, the driver was okay and able to get back into his lane without incident because all Praxair trucks are equipped with the forward-facing cameras and lane departure warning systems.
To keep their drivers safe and make it known that fatigue is a serious issue that shouldn’t be ignored, Praxair has implemented driver fatigue programs to help its employees become more educated on why they need to hit the hay.
Drivers were given a training module that included three 20-minute videos that educated drivers on quality of sleep, their body clock, sleep hygiene and nighttime versus daytime sleep and napping techniques.
The fatigue workshop also taught night drivers about why they may not feel tired come morning time.
“We had some locations where drivers would work a night shift and finish their shift at 7 to 10 a.m,” said Marvin. “At that time, sunlight’s hitting their eyes and their body is telling them they’re awake.”
According to Marvin, night drivers lose 2.5 hours of sleep compared to day drivers because sunlight provides a primary cue for a person’s circadian rhythm. To solve this issue, Praxair altered the night drivers’ hours so they finish a shift before dawn allowing them to get adequate rest after work.
Marvin provided the audience with some key takeaways from the fatigue program that everyone could use to educate their own fleets. Some of the more interesting points were:
• The average person spends one third of their life asleep. This is equivalent to 25 years.
• People sleep in cycles of 1.5 hours.
• Calculate your bedtime using the formula (wake up time – hours you need to spend asleep + 20 minutes to fall asleep)
• Naps should be 20-30 minutes or 1.5 hours in duration.
• Rotating shifts from day to night should be avoided.
“At the end of the workshops participants know how to measure sleep in cycles, how and when to nap and how to manage sleep debt,” said Marvin. “The drivers strongly agreed that their quality of sleep improved after the training.”
In addition to the workshop, Praxair enables its trucks with ASTiD (Advisory System for Tired Drivers) that is a both knowledge-based and steering-based system. ASTiD is mounted inside of a cab and predicts hour-by-hour the likelihood of the driver falling asleep based on how long the driver has been on the road. In addition, the system can also detect monotonous steering, which is often associated with fatigued drivers.
“It will alert the tired when he is fatigued and hopefully he will pullover,” said Marvin. “It’s not intrusive for the driver it’s essentially just another warning light.”
If that isn’t enough, before shifts, Praxair drivers also take a Fit For Duty test that measures their alertness before they go on the road. The test is made up of five questions and can be taken on the driver’s on-board computer system. Failure of the test means the drivers must report to their supervisor for further instruction.
All these efforts haven’t gone unnoticed as Marvin said that Praxair’s statistics show a major reduction in rollovers. In 2008, the company had 23. And in 2012, the company cut that number in more than half with only 10 rollovers reported. Numbers don’t lie which begs the question: will more fleets be implementing the same workshops for their own drivers? It’s something fleet managers should definitely sleep on.
Sonia Straface is the associate editor of Truck News and Truck West magazines. She graduated from Ryerson University's journalism program in 2013 and enjoys writing about health and wellness and HR issues surrounding the transportation industry. Follow her on Twitter: @SoniaStraface. All posts by Sonia Straface