Obstructive sleep apnea (or apnoea) is the most common form of sleep apnea – a common disorder in which you have one or more pauses in breathing whilst you sleep. People who have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) experience disrupted breathing during sleep, usually as a result of the relaxation of the muscles and soft tissues in the throat which relax and collapse to block the airway for 10 or more seconds. It affects an estimated 4% of middle aged men and 2% of middle aged women, and is associated with obesity and increasing age. But it is thought that 80% of cases remain undiagnosed.
Because OSA disrupts breathing during sleep, it often interferes with the quality and length of sleep, leading to daytime sleepiness and the risk of accidents as well as other health problems associated with poor quality sleep.
The five most common risk factors associated with OSA are:
- Type 2 diabetes.
- Older age.
- High blood pressure.
- Being male.
It is particularly important that workers whose duties involve safety critical duties (e.g. operating moving machinery, driving, or caring for vulnerable children or adults) do not attend work when they are fatigued or experiencing issues with their concentration due to poor sleep patterns. Employees with ongoing symptoms of fatigue should be assessed for fitness to undertake safety critical duties and, as OSA can continue for long periods in some cases, it may be that they would be covered under the Equality Act 2010. This states that a person may be considered disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term effect (12 months or more) on their ability to perform day–to-day activities.
A person’s health can have a profound effect on their ability to work, and being in work is generally accepted to be good for a person’s health and wellbeing. To find out more about work and health, visit Fit for Work or call the advice line on 0800 032 6235.