Is it SOH or OSH?

Over the years, I have seen people who were Safety and Occupational Health (SOH) Specialists and others that were Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Specialists. The real difference as it was explained to me was that SOH spent time on things other than occupational safety while OSH spent all their time on occupational safety. I was an SOH for over twenty-one years. I spent a great deal of my time on off-duty safety. In some cases, I spent more time preventing drunk driving than I did occupational hazards. The reason was that we had soldiers dying in car accidents. This is not a post about the importance of being an SOH or an OHS. It is about the importance of doing off-duty safety.

Unless you work for a transportation company, the workers of the company will spend more time in a motor vehicle off-duty than on-duty. This puts them at significant risk for a motor vehicle accident. Most workers go home where they are at risk for a variety of accidents many of which can be deadly.

The National Safety Council identifies our odds of dying in its publication Injury Facts. That release includes an Odds of Dying Chart that shows the top two causes of death or disease related. The third cause is suicide, and the fourth is poisoning. The next cause is motor vehicle accidents followed by falls. This chart is an excellent source of information (Injury, 2016). As you look at the chart, you will see just as many non-occupational causes of death as you will occupational.

The second area of interest is the actual exposure.  The average person works about 2,080 hours per year. The average person is not at work 6,656 hours per year. That means that nonoccupational exposure is three times higher than occupational exposure. My experience over a career was that people died off work far more that at work. Motor vehicle accidents were the cause of most fatalities I worked on. Some locations where I worked, we experienced one off-duty motor vehicle death per month. I also worked several drownings and pedestrian accidents.

For each place I worked I developed and off-duty accident prevention program. This put emphasis on such things as:

  • Motor Vehicle Crashes (Seat Belt Use/Drunk Driving Prevention)
  • Motorcycle Crashes (Training/Riding Drunk/Visibility Garments)
  • Drownings (Alcohol and Swimming/safe boating)
  • Hunting Accidents (Firearm Safety/Hypothermia)
  • Boating Accidents (Boating and Alcohol/flotation devices)
  • Home Accidents (fires/electricity/chemicals/drowning/snakes)
  • Bicycle and Pedestrian Accidents (visibility)
  • Accidental Firearm Discharges

It is hard to know just how many off-duty accidents there are. If they don’t involve death or serious injury, no one tracks them. If you just consider the number of deaths that occur there must be a lot of accidents that are less severe. Furthermore, if a worker dies in a drunk driving car crash, the workplace loses an employee just as if he or she had died at work. If a worker is seriously injured in a pedestrian accident walking his dog and is placed off work for six weeks, the workplace loses too. This is the best reason for implementing an off-duty accident prevention program. The workplace loses workers. There are no OSHA rules for protecting people while they are not at work, but there are a lot of sources for information. I provided the basic prevention programs in my list above. There are also a lot of sources for information that include:

  • Safe Boating Council
  • Mothers Against Drunk Driving
  • Poison Control Center
  • Motorcycle Safety Foundation
  • American Automobile Association
  • GEICO Insurance
  • Safe Kids Worldwide
  • International Hunters Education Association
  • American Red Cross

A search of the World Wide Web can provide you with many more sources. Savings lives and preventing injuries and illnesses is what we do for a living. We can multiply our success by putting effort on non-work related hazards. The payoff will be for better than focusing on work-related hazards. So which will it be SOH or OHS?


Injury Facts (2016), Odds of Dying Chart, National Safety Council. Retrieved from 2

About Fred Fanning Author

Fred Fanning spent over 20 years in the safety profession. His final safety position was as the Director of Occupational Safety and Health for the U.S. Department of Commerce. He began writing in 1994, published his first book in 1998, and began writing professionally in 2015. He has authored and coauthored articles, written books, and chapters for technical books and stories for anthologies.
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