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It’s no secret that sleep apnea takes its toll on your body, but it may come as a surprise that sleep apnea at work could also be damaging your business.

It’s estimated that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is costing American employers a staggering $150 billion a year, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

The economic impacts aren’t the only cost, as employees who suffer from OSA at work are also twice as likely to suffer an occupational injury.

Between the human cost and the financial cost, sleep apnea at work is a disorder that your company can’t afford to ignore.

Read on to learn about what untreated OSA could be costing your business, and what you can do about it.

The Economic and Human Costs of Sleep Apnea at Work

Lost productivity, workplace accidents, and healthcare expenses from conditions related to untreated sleep apnea make up a large portion of that $150B price tag American employers are paying every year due to OSA.

“Insomnia and excessive daytime sleepiness are common complaints in patients with medical, psychiatric, medication-induced, and circadian rhythm disorders. These conditions can and do impact alertness levels…These patients are at increased risk for accidents and errors at work, in addition to many other adverse health outcomes.” (Dr. Joshua Wintje, MD)

Lost Productivity and Absenteeism from Sleep Apnea at Work

Unsurprisingly, the largest financial costs are due to lost productivity—an estimated $86.9 billion per year.

That’s because OSA is the most common medical cause of daytime fatigue, and studies have shown that workplace fatigue leads to a lack of motivation, impaired concentration, decreased coordination, and poor judgment. 

Daytime sleepiness and snoring, two of the most common OSA symptoms, were associated with decreased productivity in one AASM study.

Employees who reported frequent daytime sleepiness showed a 50% lower work output; employees who snored regularly showed a 34% lower output than their silent-sleeping counterparts!

Workplace Injury and Motor Vehicle Accidents from Sleep Apnea at Work

Workplace and motor vehicle accidents were the second highest contributors to the $ 150 billion annual cost of OSA--$37 billion each year.

Although many assume such incidents are due to drug and alcohol intoxication, fatigue is a much more common cause of impairment. One informal study showed that drug and alcohol intoxication accounted for 9% of failed impairment tests while fatigue accounted for 30%.

In addition to being twice as likely to suffer from a workplace accident, employees with untreated OSA are also three times as likely to suffer an injury related to reduced vigilance. 

Related Health Problems from Workplace-Related Sleep Apnea

The third largest contributor to the $150B OSA price tag was increased healthcare costs. The AASM reported $30 billion in increased healthcare costs due to health problems related to untreated OSA.

For example, when OSA patients stop breathing, their body responds by releasing high levels of stress hormones. These elevated hormone levels can contribute to other dangerous and costly conditions such as heart failure, stroke, and cardiovascular disease.

OSA has even been associated with conditions such as diabetes and cancer.  

“[A] single employee with obstructive sleep apnea can cost an employer more than $3,000 in excess healthcare costs each year,” according to the National Safety Council.

How to Address Sleep Apnea At Work

sleep apnea at work statistics

Image Courtesy infrastructureusa.org

Though the impacts of OSA at work are evident, the symptoms can be difficult to recognize from the outside. Because of this, many safety-sensitive industries have begun to mandate testing for sleep disorders. 

These tests are often intrusive, negatively impacting workplace culture, and costly.

Two of the less intrusive and more cost-efficient tools companies use are fatigue management and alertness testing.

Since the most common and visible signs of sleep apnea mirror those of fatigue, companies are able to use fatigue management systems to identify and manage OSA at work in real time.Alertness testing helps employers identify when any of their employees might be posing a safety risk due to common causes of impairment including fatigue and illness.

The AlertMeter®, for example, measures employee alertness at work in real-time via a simple, 60-second graphics game. Case studies of companies who used the app reported reductions in worker’s compensation claims (up to 70%), reductions in accident severity (up to 68%), and increases in productivity (11%), according to Predictive Safety.

How to Diagnose and Treat Sleep Apnea at Work

Fatigue management and alertness testing can help protect your employees and your business from workplace injury and lost productivity, but they can’t diagnose OSA.

To diagnose OSA:

  • Encourage employees to get an in-home or in-lab polysomnogram test.

The good news for employers and employees alike is that sleep apnea is readily and easily treatable once diagnosed.

To treat OSA:

  • CPAP therapy treats OSA immediately, and many patients see improvement in alertness and concentration overnight. In the long term, it has been shown to reduce the odds of death due to related causes by 62%. 

If you suspect one of your employees may suffer from OSA, you should encourage them to get tested immediately.

To help employees assess their risk of OSA and determine if they need to get diagnosed or treated, start with a STOP-Bang questionnaire.

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More Resources:
6 Reasons Why Your Company Needs to Manage Work Fatigue and Impairment (Part 1)
6 Reasons Why Your Company Needs to Manage Work Fatigue and Impairment (Part 2)
3 Things Workers Should Know About Shift Worker Fatigue, From a Doctor
Managing Safety through Worker Fatigue Data
Circadian Rhythm and Shift Work - When the Time Changes
4 Steps to Fatigue Risk Management - a Fatigue Risk Management Template
Fatigue in the Workplace: Myths vs. Realities
Work Fatigue Symptoms
The Science of Fatigue at Work



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