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Trump Administration Blocks an Obscure Regulation, Hysteria Ensues

The regulatory deep state is fighting tooth and nail to preserve and expand its power in the face of Trump's deregulatory push.

GM43 diesel train - moving barley, Clare valley, south australiaPeripitus/Wikimedia CommonsWitness the fevered reaction to the Trump administration's decision to drop mandated screenings for sleep apnea—a disorder that can interrupt sleep and contribute to fatigue—among train engineers and truck drivers.

"We don't want train engineers with undiagnosed sleep apnea, who actually hold lives in their hands," thundered Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–New York) at a hastily convened press conference.

"It's very hard to argue that people aren't being put at risk," fretted former Federal Rail Administration head Sarah Feinberg.

The pearl-clutching continued in the media. "How asleep should truck drivers be on the job?" asked The Atlantic. "Experts: Lives at risk if no sleep tests for train engineers." was the Associated Press headline.

The panic amongst the political class in Washington is standard for even the most minor regulatory rollback proposed by the Trump Administration, underscoring the daunting political difficulty of major reform.

It also points up the ridiculousness of the hysteria.

For starters, Tuesday's decision did not eliminate any regulations. Nor did it eliminate any proposed regulations.

The Department of Transportation under the the Obama Administration had been considering regulations on mandated sleeping disorder screenings for rail and truck operators. The Trump Administration ended that study.

So when Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D–New York) says that "getting rid of this rule takes us backwards for no reason, and it's just plain stupid", he's talking about a rule that doesn't exist.

Maloney also obscures the fact that the problem the non-existent rule is supposed to address is itself nearly non-existent. According to Federal Railway Administration data, there have been 86 rail accidents caused by sleeping employees since 1975—that's 42 years—resulting in two deaths and 80 non-fatal injuries.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) considers the number slightly higher saying, "sleep apnea has been in the probable cause of 10 highway and rail accidents investigated by the NTSB in the past 17 years," including the 2013 crash of a Metro-North Railroad train in New York, caused by a dozing engineer which killed four people.

The NTSB condemned Tuesday's decision to not go forward with sleep apnea regulation as well.

The NTSB concedes that while sleep apnea might be a "probable cause" in many of these accidents, it is rarely the sole cause. Nor does it make a convincing case that more regulations in the form of mandated sleep apnea screenings by employers would have prevented many of these accidents.

In 2001, for instance, untreated sleep apnea of an engineer and insufficiently treated sleep apnea of a conductor was blamed for a two-train collision in Michigan that resulted in the deaths of two crewmembers.

That the conductor was already being treated for sleep apnea suggests that screening for sleep apnea was not the problem. At the time of the crash, the untreated engineer was working his seventh consecutive 12-hour graveyard shift, something that might have made anyone a little sleepy.

The call for more regulation also ignores the voluntary steps taken by the rail and trucking industries to combat fatigue among their employees. Trucking associations and government regulatory boards from both the U.S. and Canada have created the North American Fatigue Management Program for managers, drivers, and spouses and family members of truck drivers.

Their website includes a return-on-investment calculator for measuring the money saved from implementing anti-fatigue measures.

The rail industry has taken similar measures according to a June 2017 report from the American Association of Railroads, including individual companies encouraging confidential sleep disorder screenings, and increasing minimum off-duty hours for employees.

The same report cautions against one-size-fits-all fatigue regulation, saying "not every countermeasure is appropriate for every railroad, or even for different parts of the same railroad, because circumstances unique to each railroad influence the effectiveness and practicality of specific countermeasures."

This focused, local and voluntary approach does not satisfy regulators like Feinberg, who told the Washington Post, "there is no reason to withdraw a rulemaking like this other than because you don't understand the science or because you've chosen to ignore it."

The Trump White House has shown little patience for Feinberg's reflexive need to regulate industry. A slow but steady stream of deregulatory actions and proposals has been a bright spot from an otherwise unfocused, chaotic administration.

An unholy trinity of politicians, regulators, and media voices is at the ready to fight any reduction of the regulatory state. At the same time, it's hard to know whether the Trump hite House can maintain the energy to fight on to halt something as arcane as sleep apnea overreach.

Photo Credit: Peripitus

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  • Longtobefree||

    If we drop mandatory screening for sleep apnea, how can we justify universal health care to pay for it?

  • Radioactive||

    What, what? Sorry I dozed off there for a minute.

  • Jerryskids||

    But Trump did order that mercury levels in water be increased, just like Boooosh ordered arsenic levels in water be increased, right?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    "We don't want train engineers with undiagnosed sleep apnea, who actually hold lives in their hands," thundered Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer...

    ...his ample bosom heaving breathlessly with partisan righteousness.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    That isn't his bosom, which is sunk. That's his paunch.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    This big veiny rack begs to differ.

  • BambiB||

    Sleep Apnea is a serious condition - but the "screening" process is typically a "sleep study" that costs thousands of dollars. That's all because CPAP machines are "prescription-only" items - whose status as such also substantially increases the cost of treating sleep apnea.

    In fact, a CPAP machine is not in any way dangerous. The amount of pressure it places on the pulmonary system is substantially less than that experienced in blowing up a child's party balloon.

    Rather than "screen" for sleep apnea, it would actually be cheaper to make CPAP machines non-prescription items and issue one to every single person who might otherwise have been screened. Such an approach would also have the salubrious effect of reducing by 95% the cost of treating sleep apnea in America.

    Of course, it would mean less government control - so that idea is right out...

  • Crusty Juggler||

    So when Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D – New York) says that "getting rid of this rule takes us backwards for no reason, and it's just plain stupid", he's talking about a rule that doesn't exist.

    Contradicting America's first openly gay congressman? OOOOUUUUTTTTTRRRAAAGGGEEEE!!!!!!!

  • Red Rocks Baiting n Inciting||

    America's first openly gay congressman

    I thought that was Jared Polis?

    If it's anything Maloney ought to be excoriated for, it's being so outrageously Irish.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    You're right - he is New York's first congressmo.

    And if he should be excoriated for anything, it's that he was born in Canada.

    BUILD THE WALL!

  • Red Rocks Baiting n Inciting||

    Canadian AND Irish--the worst of both sides of the Atlantic.

  • Radioactive||

    Weren't some of his relatives from the Azores? Triple threat, both sides and the middle.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    If it's anything Maloney ought to be excoriated for, it's being so outrageously Irish.

    Alright, we'll give some land to the niggers and the chinks faggots and the trannies! But we don't want the Irish!

  • Philadelphia Collins||

    Best part of being of Irish descent: we can take a joke.

  • p3orion||

    I thought when Garry Studds was censured for having an affair with a 17-year-old male congressional page, but given a standing ovation by the Democrats when he returned, that his being gay was pretty much out in the open.

  • CatoTheChipper||

    First openly gay congressman????

    Ever hear of Barney Frank?

  • Sevo||

    Yep.
    I just wish I hadn't.

  • Red Rocks Baiting n Inciting||

    That the conductor was already being treated for sleep apnea suggests that screening for sleep apnea was not the problem. At the time of the crash, the untreated engineer was working his seventh consecutive 12-hour graveyard shift, something that might have made anyone a little sleepy.

    It's telling that sleep apnea testing is the issue they're chimping out over, rather than a work schedule that most people would consider excessive. If you're going to pimp for regulations, at least do it towards something that would make sense like a limitation on the number of shifts you're required to work in a given period or a certain amount of time off between shifts so the conductor can get enough rest.

    If we drop mandatory screening for sleep apnea, how can we justify universal health care to pay for it?

    You just watch, sleep apnea is going to be put on the list of ailments eligible for disability payments eventually.

  • Rich||

    Better require those payments to be made electronically, if you catch my ... *** drifts off ***

  • pan fried wylie||

    like a limitation on the number of shifts you're required to work in a given period or a certain amount of time off between shifts so the conductor can get enough rest.

    Somebody get this man a Nobel.

  • Tionico||

    ever drive truck? He'd have been off duty three days ago for exceeding his allowable duty time vs elapsed time.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Hell, if they're worried about them drifting off, screening them for narcolepsy might make more sense.

  • BYODB||

    Amusingly, you can work consecutive 24 hour shifts in healthcare as long as you catch a few cat naps every few hours. Feel safe yet?

  • Rich||

    "We don't want train engineers with undiagnosed sleep apnea, who actually hold lives in their hands," thundered Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D – New York) at a hastily convened press conference.

    "We don't want U.S. senators with undiagnosed sleep apnea, who actually hold lives in their hands," thundered H&R commenter Rich at a hastily convened press conference.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Hell, if we required that sitting congresscritters prove they have a working brain cell we could empty the chamber, thereby increasing the safety of us all!

  • Radioactive||

    I'd settle for 1/2 of a working brain cell. Need to manage our expectations.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Personally I'd rather they nod off once in a while. They can't fuck things up too much in their sleep.

  • Tionico||

    Like Mark Twain infamously declared more than a century ago: the only time we Americans are safe is when Congress are not in session.

  • ||

    I think they're suffering from brain apnea wherein they fail to take a deep breath before expressing outrage.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    A slow but steady stream of deregulatory actions and proposals has been a bright spot from an otherwise unfocused, chaotic administration.

    Geez, just cut your hair alt-right style under your MAGA hat and get it over with, Britschgi. (If that is your real name.)

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    (((Britschgi)))?

  • CatoTheChipper||

    "Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder that occurs when a person's breathing is interrupted during sleep" according to WebMD.

    Train engineers and truck drivers shouldn't sleep on the job, and they should arrive at work prepared to stay awake for their entire shift.

    The cause of the accidents is that they were sleeping on the job, not that their breathing was interrupted while they were sleeping on the job.

    Even as a libertarian, I don't have problems with government regulation of the work schedules of train engineers and truck drivers. I imagine that, in libertopia, the owners of train tracks and roads would do the same thing. But, considering that physician training is mostly private, and that intern doctors are scheduled to work 24-hour shifts and up to 28 consecutive hours, I'm not entirely sure.

  • creech||

    I was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea. Never did I have any symptoms of falling asleep during the workday.
    Something like 35% of the population has apnea as they age (likely symptom is snoring). Doctors say that, even when diagnosed, less than 50% bother to use the treatment (a CPAP machine). So, just to be doubly safe from the refusers, we need to fire all apnea-diagnosed truck drivers, train engineers, pilots, congressmen, and anyone else whose job may put others at risk. /sarc

  • SQRLSY One||

    Legalizing methanphetamines would go a LONG way towards fighting sleepiness on the job!

  • perlchpr||

    You don't need meth, you need modafinil.

    Though of course, meth should be legal as well.

  • Fuck You - Cut Spending||

    Nothing prevents sleeping quite like a CPAP machine.

    Groupthink and consensus are the opposite of science.

  • p3orion||

    "Never did I have any symptoms of falling asleep during the workday."

    Anecdotes make for poor evidence. I also was diagnosed with severe apnea. Not sleeping soundly was causing me to drift off during the day (including once while I was driving.) Using a CPAP stopped that.

    As someone mentioned above, it's not the CPAPs that are the problem, it's that you can't get one without a prescription, which drives up the cost (after the expense of having to undergo a sleep study to tell you what you generally already know.)

  • Fuck You - Cut Spending||

    If people sleep on the job, it is best for everyone if their sleeping is interrupted by sleep apnea.

  • Tionico||

    HEY WHAT'S UP WITH THE IMPECCABLE LOGIC HERE ANYWAY???!!!???

  • p3orion||

    I can't tell if you're joking or just ignorant.
    If it's the latter: the sleep that needs to be uninterrupted is when they are resting so that they are not so tired that they drop off while driving.

    If it was a joke: lol chuckling quietly

  • widget||

    creech,

    I did the whole sleep apnea study a couple of years ago with all the wires and instruments hooked up to me and a trial CPAP machine.

    I was diagnosed with mild sleep apnea and the choice was either to wear the CPAP machine or loose 15 lbs. I chose the latter. I don't always make good decisions but that one worked. YMMV, of course. There are respiratory plumbing problems that weight loss will not fix.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    The cause of the accidents is that they were sleeping on the job, not that their breathing was interrupted while they were sleeping on the job.

    One of the effects of sleep apnea is that it's a lot harder for a person to reach and maintain REM sleep because their interrupted breathing keeps waking them up. Which means they tend to not get as much quality sleep, which makes them tired and more likely to doze off.

    I imagine if your job involves sitting on your ass watching miles and miles of road or train track pass by with little to keep your mind sharp, you would be more likely to doze off anyway because of boredom. Add in not getting enough REM sleep and I can see where there could be a problem. Still not an issue the government should be regulating though.

  • pan fried wylie||

    and that intern doctors are scheduled to work 24-hour shifts and up to 28 consecutive hours

    Isn't that more of a being on-call situation, I thought they could plop down for a nap between patients. Otherwise....goddamn, how is that not a shortage of capable personnel?

  • BYODB||

    It absolutely is a shortage of personnel, but no one is interested in addressing supply-side problems in healthcare.

    And no, it isn't necessarily an on-call situation although they will be catching short naps in between patients or when they're not needed. But to someone outside healthcare on-call would be roughly analogous only you're not allowed to leave the facility.

  • pan fried wylie||

    It's going to be so easy to enslave the medical profession.

  • Rhywun||

    he's talking about a rule that doesn't exist

    Punking the left like this over and over again never gets old. With the mountain of regulations Obama vomited up on his way out the door, Trump can probably not-implement or reverse one a week for the rest of his term(s).

  • Tionico||

    I much prefer a One a Day administration of this prescription.

  • Fuck You - Cut Spending||

    How do we know the problem is undiagnosed sleep apnea and not undiagnosed narcolepsy?

    Also, undiagnosed is not actually a word.

  • Radioactive||

    Then, 1) how did you type it and 2) how do we all know what it means?

  • pan fried wylie||

    I'm guessing the claim is based on the browser's spellchecker not recognizing it. Dictionary.com says it's a Related Form of diagnose though.

  • pan fried wylie||

    Fun Fact: most spellcheckers don't recognize 'recused'.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    If you're going to mention hysteria, don't open with a Schumer press conference. You've got nowhere to go from there.

  • DJF||

    """"The Department of Transportation under the the Obama Administration had been considering regulations on mandated sleeping disorder screenings for rail and truck operators. The Trump Administration ended that study."""

    So this is like the Tranny in the military hysteria. The military had been considering it but Trump is against it

  • Cynical Asshole||

    For starters, Tuesday's decision did not eliminate any regulations. Nor did it eliminate any proposed regulations.

    The Department of Transportation under the the Obama Administration had been considering regulations on mandated sleeping disorder screenings for rail and truck operators. The Trump Administration ended that study.

    FFS, we can't even backtrack on rules that haven't even been put in place yet, that were only being studied, without hysterical screeching? *facepalm*

    We're doomed.

  • Rebel Scum||

    "We don't want train engineers politicians with undiagnosed sleep apnea narcissistic personality disorder , who actually hold lives in their hands," thundered Senate Minority Leader totalitarian windbag Chuck Schumer (D–New York) at a hastily convened press conference.

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    This is consistent for proggies. After all, they believe that money you haven't even earned yet "belongs to the Treasury" and if the tax rate is reduced to let you keep more of it when you do earn it, it is "spending" and you're "being subsidized".

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    The panic amongst the political class in Washington is standard for even the most minor regulatory rollback proposed by the Trump Administration, underscoring the daunting political difficulty of major minor and insignificant reform.

    Fixed. We're not a thousand miles from "major" reform.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    "The Department of Transportation under the the Obama Administration had been considering regulations on mandated sleeping disorder screenings for rail and truck operators. The Trump Administration ended that study."
    Someone lost their job or was reassigned after the study was cancelled.

    Hence, the outrage. Either that or any dismantling of the Nanny-State will be met by screeching according to their narrative code of insanity.

  • m.EK||

    This "regulation" appears to be more of an attorneys attempt to cover the ass (CYA) of the company's in question rather than helping the employees.
    And yes, working several 12 hour shifts in a row probably saved the company on insurance (until their insurer realized the employee abuse by not hiring another person to cover the 8 hour shifts probably called for) and benefits.
    Again, the problem is LAW. "do all you have agreed to do and do not encroach on other persons or their property".
    Being responsible to LAW rather than rules and regs.
    This, despite that a private company should be able to make up whatever rules and regs they feel are best. The employee does not have to work there.

  • Tionico||

    I'm quite certain that the long workshifts of the at fault employee ended up RAISING the premiums to cover the far higher risk of insuring a company with that sort of policy. So they may have saved twenny bux that week by overworking that one guy (and all his equally flogged co-workers) but will end up paying hundreds of thuosands more due to the demonstrably increased risk of such scheduling practices.

    That railroad was perfectly free to schedule that, and their other, employees to a more reasonable schedule. They chose not to, and so suffered the losses and damages of the crash. And increased insurance premiums. AND increased workmen's comp coverage.

    Their bad... will they learn? Maybe.....

  • Tionico||

    At the time of the crash, the untreated engineer was working his seventh consecutive 12-hour graveyard shift, something that might have made anyone a little sleepy.

    THAT is the problem, not sleep apnea. WHO scheduled this guy for that many duty hours in a week? Truck drivers cannot work more than 72 hours, I think it is, in any seven day period without a BIG chunk of time off duty. Airline crew have even stricter rules. Long nonstops (I think its longer than 10 or 12 hour flight times) require TWO nights layover before back in the saddle. So HOW can railroads work their guys such hard hours? Good grief, a normal younger man with no issues would be getting drowsy after a ninety four hour work week. Add in time to eat, maybe shower, use the loo, that leaves not much time for sleep even if it IS sound restorative deep sleep.

    Correlation does not mean causation.

  • croaker||

    Sounds like the mandated crew rest rules need to be re-worked, not the sleep apnea study. We know how employers like to skirt right up to the line when rules are set.

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