We know that sleep apnea makes it more likely that you will be injured at work. Now the largest, most reliable study on the subject confirms the relationship and adds that sleep apnea triples your risk of a vigilance-related work injury.

construction worker laying on the ground due to injury

A Sleep Clinic Population

This research, which was published online ahead of print March 15, looked at patients at the University of British Columbia (UBC) Hospital Sleep Laboratory. All 1236 patients had been referred because they were suspected of having sleep apnea, and all received a polysomnography to diagnose sleep apnea.

Researchers then searched the patients’ records to see which had been involved in an occupational injury requiring at least one day off work in the previous five years. They found that, in overall numbers, workers with sleep apnea were nearly twice as like (1.93 times) to experience an occupational injury. When they included confounders in their analysis, the risk decreased slightly to a 76% increase in work injuries.

But when researchers looked at vigilance-related accidents, they found a much stronger association. Vigilance-related accidents are those that can be caused by failing to pay attention to work. The most common types of vigilance-related accidents are falls and motor-vehicle accidents. People with sleep apnea are nearly three times (2.88) as likely to be involved in this type of accident, though, when controlling for confounders, the risk drops slightly to 2.4 times.

Sleep Apnea Puts You at Risk

Sleep apnea affects you not only when you’re sleeping, but throughout your day. When you sleep poorly at night, you experience daytime sleepiness. Daytime sleepiness makes it harder for you to pay attention at work, and may even cause you to fall asleep in the middle of a dangerous but mundane task. Poor sleep also increases work stress.

Researchers at UBC hope to follow up this current study with further work to determine whether sleep apnea treatment reduces your risk of workplace accidents. This large population could yield significant results on the impact of treatment on workplace accident risks. Hopefully, they will employ oral appliances as well as CPAP to get a more realistic assessment of treatment.

In some workplaces, we already have good data about the impact of treatment. Long-haul truckers with sleep apnea, for example, have a preventable accident rate five times higher when they don’t have their sleep apnea treated. When their apnea is treated, their risk is about the same as drivers who don’t have sleep apnea.

If you suspect you may have sleep apnea, or if you’re an employer looking to reduce workplace accidents related to sleep apnea, please call (402) 493-4175 for an appointment with an Omaha sleep dentist at the Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center.