The problem of sleep apnoea encapsulates a number of the problems besetting the road transport industry. Fatigue, and its management, is one of the daily challenges for everyone, from one end of the supply chain to the other. Our ageing, overweight and relatively unhealthy workforce has become a problem in and of itself.
The conditions many of these drivers work in is less than ideal so, as a result, young, fit and enthusiastic people are not flocking into the workforce. The only prospect is the situation is likely to just get worse, and it’s bad enough already.
Recent reports into the industry have put the level of obesity in the trucking industry at 50 per cent. In a sample of 517 drivers tested, 41 per cent were found to be suffering from obstructive sleep apnoea, of which 16 per cent were reckoned to be classified as severe. There is a direct link between being over weight and suffering from sleep disorders.
These sorts of levels of occurrence of a condition like sleep apnoea would raise alarm in any profession. Add in the fact this profession spends its time at 100 km/h in control of vehicles of 60 plus tonnes and beyond, and the problem becomes one of public safety. The Australian public is lucky the truck driving profession performs so well under such pressure, there is a lot of experience in coping with severe fatigue in the workforce.
Not only is there a high prevalence of sleep disorders, the profession also works some of the longest hours of any in the country. This is not a nine to five job, these people are working all times of the day and night each week. In the study by the Monash University Accident Research Centre the interviewers found 40 per cent of drivers willing to admit to struggling to stay awake while driving in the previous month and as many as 17 per cent saying they had experienced this twice in the previous week.
So, where is the public outcry? Why aren’t people in and around the industry standing up and shouting about the issue? Why isn’t easy testing and treatment for sleep disorders a priority throughout the industry? Have we brought suspicion upon ourselves by allowing a drug culture to remain strong among some parts of the industry? Why aren’t transport companies doing hair follicle drug testing on all of their drivers?
The big question is, will this go away? The answer is a resounding NO!