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Brakes put on sleep testing rule

Regulations intended to prevent many maritime and railroad injuries are, in many cases, not issued until accidents occur and their causes are studied by agencies, such as the National Transportation Safety Board. A recent federal government decision, however, has blocked belated but necessary measures to prevent accidents caused by sleep apnea.

Proposed rules requiring railroads and trucking companies to test workers for obstructive sleep apnea were withdrawn by the Federal Railroad Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Agency in early August. Sleep apnea was the suspected cause in two accidents including a catastrophic Hoboken train that crashed into a station that claimed one life and caused 108 injuries.

Sleep apnea is a long-lasting condition that reduces sleep quality and leads to daytime fatigue and drowsiness. The National Institute of Health has found that this condition is often undiagnosed.

It can cause a person to unintentionally fall asleep and lowers attention, concentration, memory and awareness of a person's situation. The FMCSA and the FRA said that sleep apnea diminishes the ability to safely respond to dangers.

However, these agencies stated that sleep apnea testing would not be mandatory and reversed their March 2016 proposal. The FMCSA and FRA only urged trucking and railroad companies to screen truck drivers, train engineers and other employees engaged in safety-sensitive activities for sleep apnea. This screening would be purely voluntary.

The testing requirement was first proposed after the derailment of a Metro-North commuter train in New York in Dec. 2013. The train jumped the tracks when it was traveling 82 mph on a curve where the speed was limited to 30 mph. The NTSB determined that the engineer had sleep apnea that was undiagnosed.

Sleep apnea is also suspected in the fatal Hoboken railroad crash in Sept. 2016. A New Jersey transit commuter train crashed through a barrier placed at the end of the tracks when it was traveling twice the proper speed. The train's engineer was later diagnosed with sleep apnea. The NTSB must still issue its crash findings.

Train accident victims and their families may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, catastrophic injuries and wrongful death. An attorney can help pursue these rights when a railroad is negligent and responsible for these accidents.

Source: NorthJersey.com, "Trump withdraws sleep testing rule for trucking, railroad employees," Curtis Tate, Aug. 5, 2017

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