By Roger Williams, RAC business director of sales
It’s possibly one of the biggest safety issues fleet drivers face today, yet only about a third of managers say they are aware of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) and its deadly potential.
It’s a condition that causes daytime drowsiness by repeatedly interrupting breathing during sleep, unbeknown to the sufferer.
It affects around one in 10 middle-aged men in the UK, with many more going undiagnosed, but among commercial vehicle drivers it’s probably more like 15-20%.
The consequences of falling asleep at the wheel are clear and devastating, but in actual fact, the condition itself is easily diagnosed and fast and effective treatment is available so drivers can return to duties without risking their lives, or those of other road users.
However, the challenge is how to encourage drivers to come forward for treatment because, if diagnosed with OSA, the driver must voluntarily stop driving.
As such, drivers are reluctant to come forward and highlight their symptoms to employers because treatment times vary across the UK and they fear they may lose their job if they have to wait many months for treatment.
That’s why the RAC, along with other key industry bodies through the OSA Partnership Group, is supporting a campaign to reduce the waiting time from diagnosis to treatment for vocational drivers to a maximum of four weeks.
This fast-tracking service, which was piloted in Newcastle, is now being made available in other parts of the country thanks to some excellent work by health professionals.
But it needs to rolled out nationwide and have the backing of the departments for both transport and health.
In the meantime, fleet operators can help their drivers by raising awareness of the condition and introduce screening programmes to identify cases where treatment is needed.
It’s clearly in everybody’s interests to address this issue and by encouraging treatment for the condition we will see safer drivers and lower accidents costs. But Government backing is crucial to success.
To register your support, contact the OSA Partnership Group and back the Four Week Wait campaign.