Pre Employment Physical Abilities Testing in the Trucking Industry

[fa icon="calendar'] Aug 12, 2015 8:30:00 AM / by Deborah Lechner

We occasionally encounter trucking organizations who feel that they can’t afford to do pre employment physical abilities testing on their driver applicants. They are desperate to get drivers behind the wheel. They have product to deliver and they’re watching revenue elude them. It’s frustrating for sure, and they feel they just can’t take the time or spend the money to do the pre hire test.

But are the gains worth $3.25 million dollars? Seldom. That’s what it cost one of the 250 largest trucking companies in North America after one of their drivers, traveling over 65 miles per hour, rear-ended a car that was stopped in a line of vehicles in a construction zone. The driver, who had uncontrolled sleep apnea, had fallen asleep at the wheel. As it turns out, this driver had been previously rejected for employment by not 1, not 2, but 30 other employers! Wonder why?

Would this company have hired this applicant had he undergone a pre employment physical abilities test? Probably not, and here’s why: sleep apnea and obesity are closely linked. While rejecting applicants due to obesity is illegal, rescinding a conditional job offer if the applicant fails their pre employment physical abilities test is not. Not all applicants who are obese fail the physical abilities test, but applicants who are strong enough and have enough endurance to perform a physically demanding job (and thus pass the test) are much less likely to be obese, and therefore less likely to have sleep apnea and fall asleep at the wheel to create a $3.25 million liability for their employer.

What does obesity have to do with sleep apnea? Weight gain leads to compromised breathing function when an individual’s trunk and neck area increase in girth due to excess body fat. The excessive weight causes the collapse of the upper airway during sleep, resulting in reduced or complete cessation (apnea) of airflow despite ongoing breathing efforts. These disruptions to breathing lead to intermittent blood gas disturbances and changes in the nervous system. Loud snoring is a typical feature of sleep apnea, and in most cases the apnea event is associated with a brief awakening from sleep. These events result in fragmented sleep as the patient oscillates between wakefulness and sleep.

The interacting problems of weight gain and sleep apnea make it difficult to help oneself off the slippery slope of health problems. Those suffering from sleep apnea may be less motivated to diet or exercise – daytime sleepiness lowers their energy levels and makes it difficult to commit to an exercise and/or diet. And the less they exercise, the more weight they gain. It’s a vicious cycle, one that can affect quality and quantity of work in any occupation. In the transportation industry sleepiness behind the wheel can be lethal.  

So do you want to put an employee behind the wheel driving 65+ mph, one that 30 other companies have rejected? Or would you rather spend a little money and time up front for a pre employment physical abilities test that could save you millions? Pay a little now or a whole lot more later.

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Topics: Pre Employment Screening

Deborah Lechner

Written by Deborah Lechner

Deborah Lechner, ErgoScience President, combines an extensive research background with 25-plus years of clinical experience. Under her leadership, ErgoScience continues to use the science of work to improve workplace safety, productivity and profitability.