Sleep ap­nea re­turns to spot­light in wake of deadly NJ Tran­sit crash

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LOCAL NEWS -

En­gi­neers suf­fer­ing from sleep ap­nea must have the fa­tigue-in­duc­ing dis­or­der un­der con­trol be­fore they will be al­lowed to op­er­ate New Jersey Tran­sit trains like the one that slammed into a sta­tion in Septem­ber, killing a woman and in­jur­ing more than 100 peo­ple.

NJ Tran­sit dis­closed the pol­icy change to The Associated Press on Mon­day as fed­eral reg­u­la­tors pre­pared a safety bul­letin that will urge all rail­roads to screen for sleep ap­nea. The en­gi­neer in the Sept. 29 crash in Hobo­ken was later found to have the con­di­tion.

New Jersey Tran­sit said Mon­day it pre­vi­ously al­lowed en­gi­neers with sleep ap­nea to keep work­ing as long as they were be­ing treated. It changed the pol­icy in early Oc­to­ber, ban­ning en­gi­neers with the dis­or­der from op­er­at­ing trains un­til they get med­i­cal cer­ti­fi­ca­tion that the con­di­tion has been cor­rected or con­trolled, spokes­woman Jen­nifer Nel­son said.

“If an em­ployee shows any in­di­ca­tion of po­ten­tial fa­tigue symp­toms they are de­clared not fit for duty,” Nel­son said.

Fed­eral Rail­road Ad­min­is­tra­tor Sarah Fein­berg told The Associated Press this week’s safety ad­vi­sory will urge rail­roads to screen and treat sleep ap­nea and call on them to in­stall in­ward-fac­ing cam­eras in train cabs to record en­gi­neers’ ac­tions and aid in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

The FRA first rec­om­mended sleep ap­nea test­ing in 2004, sug­gest­ing that rail­roads pro­hibit di­ag­nosed em­ploy­ees from per­form­ing safety-sen­si­tive tasks, such as op­er­at­ing a train, un­til the con­di­tion re­sponds to treat­ment.

Metro-North, the subur­ban New York City rail­road that had a deadly sleep ap­nea-re­lated crash three years ago, al­lows its en­gi­neers to op­er­ate trains as long as they’re un­der­go­ing treat­ment, spokesman Aaron Dono­van said. Metro-North’s screen­ing pro­gram found that one in nine of its en­gi­neers suf­fers from sleep ap­nea.

Metro-North started test­ing for sleep ap­nea af­ter the De­cem­ber 2013 crash in the Bronx, in which a train that orig­i­nated in Pough­keep­sie sped into a 30-mph curve at 82 mph and de­railed, killing four peo­ple. The en­gi­neer, Ger­man­town res­i­dent Wil­liam Rock­e­feller, had fallen asleep at the con­trols.

NJ Tran­sit has screened en­gi­neers and other em­ploy­ees in safety sen­si­tive po­si­tions for sleep ap­nea since 2005. NJ Tran­sit would not say if the en­gi­neer in the Sept. 29 crash, Thomas Gal­lagher, was screened, cit­ing med­i­cal

pri­vacy and the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Gal­lagher’s lawyer, Jack Arse­nault, said NJ Tran­sit was in­formed on Oct. 7 that a doc­tor con­cluded Gal­lagher was likely suf­fer­ing from sleep ap­nea. Gal­lagher un­der­went a sleep study that con­firmed the di­ag­no­sis, Arse­nault said, and the re­sults were sent to fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors on Oct. 31.

Gal­lagher had passed a phys­i­cal in July and was cleared for duty, Arse­nault said. The en­gi­neer told in­ves­ti­ga­tors he felt fully rested when he re­ported to work that day

of the crash.

Sleep ap­nea suf­fer­ers are re­peat­edly awak­ened and robbed of rest as their air­way closes and their breath­ing stops, lead­ing to dan­ger­ous day­time drowsi­ness. Treat­ments in­clude wear­ing a pres­sur­ized breath­ing mask, oral ap­pli­ances or nasal strips to force the air­way open while sleep­ing. Some se­vere cases re­quire surgery.

Gal­lagher told in­ves­ti­ga­tors he had no mem­ory of the crash and only re­mem­bered wak­ing up on the floor of the en­gi­neer’s cab af­ter his train slammed into a bump­ing post at dou­ble the 10 mph speed limit. Rock­e­feller, like­wise, said he had no mem­ory of the MetroNorth crash.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.