Editor's Note: You can find more salary information and insights from the 2022 National Safety & Salary Survey here. EHS Today editors hosted a free webinar delving even deeper into the results; you can watch the presentation on-demand here.
Where did everybody go?
That question, more than any other, pretty much sums up the state of mind of safety managers in the U.S. in 2022. When EHS Today asked the 1,100 respondents to our 2022 National Safety and Salary Survey what the biggest challenge they faced was, by far the most common answer was a need for more staff, more employees, more resources, more support, or similar statements lamenting too much work and not enough workers.
That probably doesn’t surprise anybody reading this article, since the respondents are EHS Today readers, but it does illustrate that no matter where safety leaders work, and no matter what industry they work in, they share a common concern: There aren’t enough good employees to go around. If you’ve grown weary of being asked, over and over and over again, to do more with less, then rest assured that you’re not alone.
With COVID-19 showing no signs yet of receding as it spawns ever-infectious new variants, safety leaders are nevertheless expected to have not only protected their workforce throughout all the various pandemic protocols but to have successfully transitioned employees back into something resembling pre-COVID levels of productivity. And they’re expected to do all that while facing severe labor shortages that require safety professionals to wear many hats. As one respondent put it, “I am a one-person department with multi-facility responsibility.”
The goal of our annual survey is to paint as full a picture as possible of a typical safety leader (not that there really is such a person), based on which responses to any given question appear most frequently. We asked a lot of questions, and we’re indebted to everyone who took the time to not only provide us with answers to our demographics questions, but also to sharing (anonymously) the highs and lows of working in the safety profession.
So, after we crunched all the numbers, we can tell you that the average EHS manager is a white male in his 50s who lives in the Midwest. He has more than 20 years of professional experience, works for a manufacturing company and manages a staff of fewer than 10 people. He earns $99,609, and last year he received a raise of just under 7%. It’s quite possible that at least some of you come relatively close to matching that description, but it’s at the edges, not the middle of the survey results where things get really interesting.
The Nature of the Job
As you can see in the chart titled, “Average Salary by Industry,” (see accompanying slide show) the safety professionals who responded to the survey are far from a homogenous bunch, as they work in a couple dozen different industries and sectors. The highest paying sector is research/technology with an average salary of $131,865, but that sector represents just 2% of the total responses. Other high-paying industries include waste/recycling ($126,941), mining ($126,287) and insurance ($121,700), but they only represent a fraction of the total distribution of safety professionals—1%, 1% and 2%, respectively.
By far the largest group of respondents (29%) work in manufacturing. Light manufacturing (e.g., apparel, small appliances, household goods) accounts for 15% of the responses and pays an average of $89,376. Heavy manufacturing (e.g., aerospace, automotive, generators) accounts for 14% of responses with an average salary of $98,129. The construction industry is also well represented in the survey, with 15% of responses and an average salary of $106,512.
Another interesting feature of the survey is its geographic spread. While most of the respondents are located in the Midwest (where historically much of the manufacturing plants are also located), the 30% of you who live there are not the highest paid. The average salary of Midwest-based safety leaders is $95,174, which is actually the lowest salary of the geographic regions of the U.S. The highest-paying region (though only accounting for 9% of the response total) is the Middle Atlantic region, which includes New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. However, the higher cost of living in those states might give a Midwesterner pause before deciding to relocate.
We speak generically of “safety leaders,” but of course there are various levels of responsibility that the term encompasses, along with commensurate salary levels. For instance, those with a title equivalent to an EHS director/VP earn an average salary of $133,643; those who are EHS managers/supervisors earn, on average, $92,835; and EHS professionals (typically, those without any direct reports) earn $82,894.
Seniority also is a big factor in how well safety leaders are compensated. Those who have more than 20 years of experience in EHS are paid, on average, $117,358 (and 39% of respondents fall into that category). Conversely, those who are new to the field—with less than five years of experience—earn $72,664.
In terms of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), the safety profession still has a long ways to go to achieve
anything remotely resembling gender or ethnic parity. Men outnumber women by more than a 2:1 ratio (68% vs 31%) and are paid on average nearly $12,000 more ($103,156 vs $91,219). At first glance, white/Caucasians seem to be in the middle of the salary range at $98,906, but a closer look reveals they also account for more than 8 out of every 10 jobs. Black/African-American safety leaders have the highest average salary at $104,642 but account for only 4% of the total number of jobs.
Almost three-quarters (73%) of respondents told us they received a raise over the past year (a big jump from the 61% who said the same in the 2021 survey). Of that number, 20% said their raise was 5% or more, which is a good sign in these inflationary times. Annual bonuses don’t seem to be nearly as prevalent, though, as almost half (45%) of respondents said they didn’t receive a bonus last year.
Besides the increase in average salary (although your mileage might vary), another good sign for the safety profession is the overall level of satisfaction within its ranks. Despite all the issues, challenges and labor issues facing safety leaders on a daily basis, the percentage of those saying they’re satisfied or very satisfied with EHS as a career path remains unchanged from last year: 83%. Also, the number who said they’re satisfied with their current job dropped only 2% from a year ago, from 76% in 2021 to 74% in 2022.
In gauging the evolution of the profession, we also asked about various initiatives that have emerged in recent years and, in many cases, been assigned to safety leaders to champion. For instance, 71% of respondents say their companies have a workplace wellness program; 67% of their companies have a DEI initiative; and 56% have a sustainability/ESG (environmental, social and governance) program underway.
Some more good news, especially for those wondering how much additional responsibility safety leaders can be expected to take on: 82% of respondents report that senior
management at their organizations are providing active and visible support for EHS. And while not quite as impressive, 70% of those organizations prioritize safety over production and other business demands. Still, there’s a sense that the widening of responsibilities isn’t being accompanied by additional staff to help shoulder some of the tasks. As one respondent remarked, “I’d like more than one person in the organization to be involved with sustainability.”
Traditionally, at the end of every workday, safety leaders used to be judged by how many workers left for home in the same condition that they arrived, i.e., injury-free. Today, the yardstick for safety leaders has gotten considerably longer, as they’re expected to keep workers safe wherever they are—in a facility, at a worksite, on the road, in a home office—and not just physically but emotionally and psychologically as well. The E and the H of EHS are just as vital as the S. If it seems like EHS professionals do the jobs of three different people (if not more), well, based on the survey results, that’s a pretty reasonable conclusion.
Thanks to all those who participated in the 2022 National Safety & Salary Survey and for sharing with your colleagues all the joys, frustrations and ambitions that characterize EHS leaders.
Additional 2022 National Safety & Salary Survey findings: