Occupational health and safety

Sleep apnea may not only pose a risk to the person who has it, but also to their community and workplace. Recent research shows that the link between sleep apnea and occupational health is becoming clearer.

According to a 2010 study, sleeping disorders are often associated with reduced work performance and lead to an increased risk of accidents in the workplace, especially in jobs that involve driving.1 This is largely due to excessive daytime sleepiness, a common symptom of sleep apnea known to impair performance, slow response times and decrease memory.2

Your role as a healthcare professional

As a healthcare professional, understanding the effects of sleep apnea on specific occupational health situations can help you treat patients effectively, and save time by narrowing down diagnostic options. Because of sleep apnea’s well-documented link with a number of comorbidities, treating sleep apnea as an occupational health concern can improve many aspects of a patient’s overall health.

An undiagnosed population

Alarmingly, around 80% of employees with sleep apnea are unidentified and untreated.3 Diagnosing and treating this particular group can help save lives, improve productivity and reduce social costs.

People with untreated sleep apnea also have:

  • double the healthcare costs4
  • increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease5-8
  • increased risk of diabetes and obesity9-11
  • double the risk of stroke12
  • six times the risk of car accidents13
  • higher incidence of presenteeism (showing up to work tired with low productivity)

Sleep apnea and occupational health: Trucking

With sleep apnea affecting around 28% of truck drivers,14 this is a group that is at greater risk when it comes to sleep apnea and occupational health. One trucking company ran a program to diagnose and treat sleep apnea among its employees. They reported a 56% reduction in medical expenses for their treated drivers, resulting in savings of over $7,000 per driver per year. They also reported a 50% reduction in preventable accidents.15

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) proceedings

There is new urgency to address this issue because the Medical Review Board (MRB) of the FMCSA has made specific recommendations that drivers be screened for sleep apnea if they have:

  • a BMI (body mass index) of 30 or higher
  • high blood pressure (treated or untreated)
  • type 2 diabetes (treated or untreated)
  • a neck size of 17 inches or more for men and 16 inches or more for women

These recommendations are expected to become standards within the trucking industry, and companies that do not screen for sleep apnea may face increased insurance costs and liability.

For more information on how to get started addressing the occupational health risks of sleep apnea, download our corporate wellness brochure.


  • 01

    Proietti et al. Clin Ter. 2010

  • 02


  • 03

    Kapur. 1999

  • 04

    Peker. 1997

  • 05

    Marin. 2005

  • 06

    National Institutes of Health. 2003

  • 07

    Gami. 2004

  • 08

    Milleron. 2004

  • 09

    Becker. 2003

  • 10

    Peppard. 2000

  • 11

    Einhorn. 2005

  • 12

    Yaggi. 2005

  • 13

    Teran-Santos. 1999

  • 14

    Pack et al. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2006

  • 15

    Harbenbaum et al. J Occup Environ Med 2006

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