A sleep disorder does not mean disqualification

March 30, 2005

A sleep disorder is a dangerous medical condition; but, in most cases, treatment can be effective.

For this reason, a labor-management joint task force has agreed, in writing, that an employee with a treatable sleep disorder who is receiving proper treatment and is otherwise complying with the safety and operating requirements of the job, should have no fear that he or she would become disqualified from work.

A sleep disorder statement to that effect has been issued by the rail industry’s Work/Rest Task Force, comprised of representatives of the United Transportation Union, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and the Class I railroads, which include BNSF, Canadian National (U.S. lines), Canadian Pacific (U.S. lines), CSX, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific.

The statement also has been approved by the industry’s Safety and Operations Management Committee (SOMC), comprised of the chief operating officers of the member railroads of the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

The sleep disorder statement is as follows:

Sleep disorders, like any other medical condition potentially affecting the safe performance of essential job functions or the safety of co-workers or the general public, require an individual assessment of the employee diagnosed with the condition to determine medical fitness for service and the necessity of any appropriate reasonable accommodations. The carrier’s medical policy for assessment of sleep disorders is intended to neither diminish in any way the employee’s responsibility for failure to comply with operating and safety rules, nor infringe upon an employee’s rights under an existing collective bargaining provision.

There are more than 80 different types of sleep disorders, ranging from insomnia (the inability to sleep) to narcolepsy (uncontrolled sleeping). The most common form of sleep disorder is sleep apnea, affecting as many as 18 million Americans. People with untreated sleep apnea stop breathing repeatedly during their sleep, sometimes hundreds of times during the night, and often for a minute or longer.

A recent study found that 60 percent of American adults experience sleep problems, but few recognize the importance of adequate rest, or are aware that sleep problems can be prevented and managed.

The good news is that most sleep disorders can be treated and most health insurance plans cover the diagnoses and treatment costs. If you suspect that you may have a sleep disorder, please discuss your problem with your physician or see a sleep disorder specialist.

For more information about sleep disorders and other sleep-related issues, go to the National Sleep Foundation’s website at www.sleepfoundation.org.

Additionally, go to http://www.utu.org/, look to the left blue margin and click on “Health care.” Toward the bottom of that page, click on “Health Columns by Dr. Norman K. Brown,” the UTU’s medical consultant. Then, click on Dr. Brown’s column, “New hope for the sleepless.”