New research suggests that sleep apnea may be responsible for a significant number of injuries in the workplace. According to a study conducted by Dr. Najib T. Ayas, an associate professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia, people with untreated sleep apnea were twice as likely to be injured in the workplace compared to individuals without the condition.
“People with sleep apnea have decreased cognitive function, vigilance, attention, and motor function,” said study author Dr. Ayas. “And we know from previous studies that individuals with untreated sleep apnea are at increased risk of motor vehicle crashes.”
For the study, the researchers looked at a group of 1,236 patients from the University of British Columbia Hospital Sleep Disorder Laboratory who were set to be evaluated for sleep apnea. Researchers then compared the injury claims of 994 patients who ultimately received a sleep apnea diagnosis to the claims of 242 patients who did not have the condition.
Ultimately, almost 10% of people who had sleep apnea ended up filing a claim reporting an injury, whereas only 5.4% of people who did not have sleep apnea did the same.
And when it comes to “vigilance-related injuries,” such as injuries that involve distractions, like motor vehicle accidents and slips, 4.5% of individuals with sleep apnea filed a claim compared to 1.7% who did not have sleep apnea.
Considering previous data, these new findings are both significant and troublesome. In 2012, 42% of work-related fatalities were transportation incidents, and 15% were falls, slips, and trips. And although previous data has shown that work-related injuries and sleep apnea are correlated, this study is one of the largest studies to date that documents this correlation. It’s important to note that state workers’ comp claims vary. For instance, workers’ comp in South Carolina can pay up to $838 per week.
“People who have symptoms of sleep apnea — i.e. being tired during the day and loud snoring at night — should get checked out for it, and understand they probably are at increased risk for having occupational injuries as well,” Ayas said.