The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has adopted several recommendations on Wednesday for better screenings of employees who may suffer from disorders such as sleep apnea. These recommendations came after a Metro-North commuter train crash in December 2013 was caused when an engineer who suffered from sleep apnea fell asleep at the controls.
Metro-North Commuter Train Crash
On Dec. 1, 2013, a southbound Metro-North Railroad train, carrying about 150 passengers, derailed in the Bronx, just north of Manhattan at an inlet where the Hudson and Harlem Rivers meet. All seven cars and the locomotive derailed, scattering cars to the edge of the water with two cars flipped on their sides. Four people died in the derailment and 63 were injured in the commuter train crash, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. In October investigators reported that a sleep-deprived engineer was the cause of the commuter train crash and that his sleepiness was caused by undiagnosed sleep apnea. The NTSB reported that the railroad did not have an adequate policy to screen engineers for such disorders.
Screening for Sleep Apnea
The NTSB issued 17 recommendations to improve railroad safety and many of them were designed to identify and treat the sleep disorder that caused the commuter train crash in New York. Eight of the recommendations were made directly to Metro-North, while the NTSB also suggested that the Long Island Rail Road screen for sleep apnea. The organization also suggested that unions and railroad associations develop a method for testing throughout the country in order to avoid additional accidents. The NTSB went so far as to suggest that the American college of Physicians and the American Academy of Family Physicians certify doctors to better identify and treat sleep apnea.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which an individual repeatedly stops and starts breathing while sleeping. People who snore loudly or feel tired even after a full night’s sleep may suffer from sleep apnea. There are two types of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when throat muscles relax while central sleep apnea occurs because the brain does not send proper signals to the muscles that control breathing. Symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Loud snoring
- Abrupt awakenings accompanied by shortness of breath
- Awakening with dry mouth or sore throat
- Morning headaches
- Difficulty staying asleep
- Attention problems
- Breathing cessation during sleep witnessed by another person
Obese people are more at risk of developing sleep apnea as are those with a thicker neck. Some people diagnosed with sleep apnea have enlarged tonsils or adenoids or a naturally narrow throat. Men are twice as likely as women to suffer from sleep apnea. It also occurs more often in people over 60 and in those who smoke, use alcohol or take sedatives.
Have You Been Injured in a Train Crash?
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