A new study published by Canadian researchers in the journal Thorax revealed workers who suffer obstructive sleep apnea have a heightened risk of suffering a work injury.
The condition, which results in a person waking up multiple times each night when their airways become blocked, is likely to lessen a person’s senses and dull their reflexes as they are carrying out their daytime duties.
The fact of a pre-existing condition does not mean that a person cannot recover damages for injuries suffered at work. Nonetheless, both workers and employers should be aware of heightened risk factors and take steps to help reduce the impact these conditions can have.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver analyzed data from more than 1,200 sleep clinic patients and discovered that those who suffered from sleep apnea were twice as likely as their peers to suffer some type of workplace injury. What’s more, they were three times as likely to suffer form an injury that directly resulted from failed vigilance. These would be things like tripping, getting burned or falling.
As our Rock Hill workers’ compensation lawyers can explain, it does not matter if the worker was at-fault, so long as the worker had not engaged in willful misconduct.
In terms of why those with sleep apnea may be more at risk for work injuries, senior study authors opined it had to do with the fact that sufferers tend to get sleep that is very fragmented. Many times, the person who is suffering does not even realize they are being awoken. The cumulative effect would be similar to someone going in and shaking a person awake several times hourly. When they actually do awaken the next day, they are extremely tired, yet may not know why.
The American Sleep Apnea Association reports approximately 22 million Americans suffer from the condition, though the vast majority have not been diagnosed and therefore have no idea. The conduction involve the collapse of a person’s airway repeatedly while they are sleeping. Because there is a brief period of time where they are not breathing, they may suddenly gasp, cough or snore. After this cycle continues hundreds of times in a night, it ends up disrupting the brain’s normal sleep patterns, which in turn leads to severe fatigue and other symptoms.
To determine what connection this might have to work-related injuries, the researchers analyzed a group of patients who underwent treatment at a sleep laboratory hospital between the spring of 2003 and the summer of 2011. In all, there were nearly 1,240 patients who underwent screening for sleep apnea. Of those, nearly 1,000 were diagnosed with the condition, while the rest were not.
The researchers then cross-analyzed the data on work injuries for the entire group over the five years prior to that sleep apnea testing. They were able to do this with workers’ compensation data.
What they discovered was that about 10 percent of people who suffered sleep apnea had reported a work injury in the five years prior to diagnosis. Comparatively, only about 5 percent of those who did not have the condition had suffered a work injury in the preceding five years.
Also, those who were diagnosed with the condition were three times as likely to suffer work-related injuries that were classified as involving a “lack of vigilance or attentiveness.” These included things like car accidents, trips, falls, exposure to electricity or heat.
Researchers also adjusted their results to account for gender, alcohol use, age, type of work and body fat. Although the strength of the correlation was somewhat reduced, they still found workers with sleep apnea were more than 75 percent more likely to suffer work injuries than those who didn’t have the condition.
It’s worth noting that even those who had not been diagnosed might have some type of sleep issue, as they had gone in for evaluation. The correlation may be even stronger for those who reportedly have no sleep issues at all.
If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.
People with sleep breathing issues more likely to get injured at work, March 24, 2016, By Madeline Kennedy, Reuters
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IHSI Report: Carolina Work Safety Improves Slightly, March 21, 2016, Rock Hill Work Injury Lawyer Blog