We recently reported on the recent recall to certain continuous positive airway pressure machines (CPAP machines), which are vital pieces of equipment and treatment methods for those with mild to severe sleep apnea. Sleep apnea of some level affects nearly one-third of truck drivers.
The recall was announced earlier this year by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration after it found that debris and harmful chemical exposure during usage of these machines posed a severe health risk to users.
Now, medical examiners are recommended by a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration medical advisory board to offer alternative treatment methods to truck drivers. Examiners are likely to have 90 days to determine which alternative options will be best for truckers afflicted with sleep apnea, and these methods found must offer the same kind of treatment as the Philips Respironics continuous airway pressure machines that are now being recalled nationwide.
“In response to the CPAP recall, appropriate oral appliance usage for certification is accepted for drivers diagnosed with moderate sleep apnea impacted by the Philips Respironics recall,” said the advisory board regarding its recommendations. “This therapy will be accepted until CPAP machines become available again for treatment.”
Still, drivers with untreated and severe sleep apnea are exempt from this recommendation, the medical examiners noted. The review board is still determining the best ways that qualified drivers with obstructive sleep apnea can continue to work and be medically certified to operate their vehicles, when CPAP machines are the treatment method upon which FMCSA has relied for so long.
If obstructive sleep apnea remains untreated, drivers are at a much higher risk for accident or crash as they could become severely fatigued while behind the wheel. Allowing untreated drivers to continue operating their commercial motor vehicles while a new preferred treatment method is found could cause a major public safety risk, board members said.
Levinson and Stefani’s Ken Levinson weighed in on the issue.
“It seems to me that this treatment is something that should absolutely be provided by trucking companies or some sort of government assistance,” he said. “It’s vital that truckers are able to work safely, and if they fall asleep at the wheel, it can cause a lot of harm and it’s a big issue.”
He added that their lifestyles can cause them to be more susceptible to various health problems, so making sure the medical issues at hand are treated in a proper and timely manner is of the utmost importance.
“Truckers have such a sedentary job that it’s hard for them to stay physically fit, so we need to do everything we can to make sure the trucking companies are conducting proper medical testing before drivers are hired and that they can also access the kind of equipment they need, whether it’s these CPAP machines or other devices to stay safe and healthy,” Levinson said.
The medical advisory board is working on ways to offer examiners various methods and opportunities to address the recall for the health of these truck drivers.
“Our goal today is to come together as a group and to develop some recommendations that we can give to the agency that will hopefully be passed along to our medical examiner community and drivers managing this issue,” said board chair Gina Pervall.
This CPAP machine recall has left a clear shortage in the market for sleep apnea equipment, and Philips Respironics explained that it is working to replace the recalled devices as quickly as possible.
“With millions of devices recalled, and many of them used by commercial motor vehicle drivers, Philips’ recall has widespread implications for commercial driver health, highway safety, and interstate commerce,” said American Trucking Associations safety policy specialist, Laura Spector. “As the medical review board is aware, without appropriate treatment options many drivers with obstructive sleep apnea will be out of compliance with FMCSA’s physical qualifications for driver regulations.”
As to how soon a potential solution will be found, Spector explained that many things are still up in the air.
“Notably, there is no clear timeline indicated when individuals might expect their device to be repaired or replaced,” she said, “with some sources estimating it could take up to one year for devices to be fully operational.”