FRA, trucking regulator, withdraw sleep apnea rules

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WASHINGTON — Two transportation agencies are withdrawing a proposed rule that would have been the first step in regulations that could lead to mandatory treatment of obstructive sleep apnea for railroad operating personnel and truck drivers.

The timing of the withdrawal on Aug. 5 is consistent with the Trump administration's initiative to reduce regulatory burden on business. But the rule, proposed in March 2016, didn't appear to have received much support from carriers or labor under the jurisdiction of the Federal Railroad Administration or Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The agencies define sleep apnea as a “respiratory disorder characterized by a reduction or cessation of breathing during sleep.” Sleep apnea is a critical safety issue that can affect operations in all transportation modes, by reducing “the capacity to safely respond to hazards when performing safety sensitive duties.”

Sleep apnea has been on the FRA's radar screen since 2004. In the proposed rule, the FRA cites several cases where sleep apnea was a likely factor, including an incident where a Metro-North commuter train ran of the tracks near Spuyten-Duyvil, N.Y., in December 2013. Four people were killed, and sleep apnea may have been a contributing factor. After the accident, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority expanded its sleep apnea screening program.

Comments from railroad industry groups ranged from neutral to negative. The Association of American Railroads recognized that while sleep apnea was a problem, any rulemaking would have to balance public and employee safety “and the needs of individual employees diagnosed with [sleep apnea] to be out of work for as short a time as possible.”

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen said the best venue to discuss sleep apnea was the FRA's Railroad Safety Advisory Committee.

The Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers was more blunt: “We believe the top 3 safety issues in the freight rail industry are fatigue, fatigue, and fatigue, and sleep apnea is a very small part of the solution to that problem …

“Singling out sleep apnea as a fix to fatigue in our industry, and ignoring the most significant contributing issue of unscheduled work, is like fighting world hunger with a pick-up truck load of watermelons.”

FRA officials said that under the Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2008, companies are required to develop worker fatigue management plans.

“While RSIA does not address [sleep apnea] by name, FRA believes railroads will consider [sleep apnea] when addressing medical conditions that affect alertness … FRA will continue to monitor railroads’ voluntary OSA programs, as well as the implementation of fatigue risk management plans.”

The federal government announcement has not yet been published in the Federal Register.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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