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How Much Is a Safety Leader Worth?

Aug. 16, 2021
The 2021 National Safety & Salary Survey identifies what a typical safety leader gets paid, and how satisfied they are with their jobs and the EHS profession.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought home just how essential safety professionals are to their companies, but how well does that translate into how valuable their companies consider their safety leaders? We expanded our annual survey to create what we’re now calling the National Safety & Salary Survey in an effort to identify how much a typical safety leader gets paid, where the highest-paid leaders live, and what types of companies tend to pay the most.

So first of all, what exactly is a “typical safety leader,” anyways? Based on the most frequent responses to our various demographic questions from about 900 EHS Today readers, the average EHS manager is a white male in his 50s, living in the Midwest with more than 20 years of experience, works for a manufacturing company and earns $93,243 (with no bonus last year).

But since no two safety leaders are alike, we took a deeper dive into the survey results to learn, for instance, that while the Midwest has the most safety professionals, the area of the country that pays the most is the West Coast. The Pacific region’s average salary of $96,991 is more than $11,000 higher than the North Central’s $85,617. Of course, everything is relative, and that extra $11,000 might not compensate for the overall higher costs of living out West as opposed to the nation’s breadbasket region.

Similarly, more than one in four safety professionals in our survey work in manufacturing, either heavy (e.g., automotive, aerospace, shipbuilding) or light (e.g., apparel, consumer electronics), but neither industry is the highest-paying sector for safety professionals: heavy pays an average of $90,395 and light pays $84,337. The insurance industry actually pays the highest average salary to safety leaders, at $105,500; however, insurance accounts for only 1% of the total respondent pool, so take that smaller sample size into consideration as you scan the industry sector salaries.

As you would expect, it also matters exactly what position you hold at your organization. EHS directors/VPs earn an average salary of $115,057; EHS managers/supervisors earn far less, at $86,281; and EHS professionals (i.e., those who most likely don’t manage a staff) earn $79,059. Also as you would expect, the older you are, the more you’re likely to get paid. Those safety leaders age 65 or older (10% of the response base) earn the most, at $101,898.

When it comes to gender and ethnic discrepancies, the news isn’t very good. Males, for instance, earn predominantly more than females. The average salary for males, who make up 68% of the response base, is $94,574, or nearly $13,000 more than females, who earn $81,584. Salaries for those identifying as non-binary or who chose not to disclose their gender, earn even less than that, at $73,407.

Asians/Pacific Islanders had the highest average salary ($101,368), though only accounting for 3% of the response base. Whites/Caucasians were next ($91,305), and they account for more than three out of every four safety professionals in the U.S. In fact, the second-largest response group to the survey ended up being “other/prefer not to say,” a group that collectively earns an average of $87,599. Clearly, the safety profession has quite a ways to go to reach an acceptable level of diversity, equity and inclusion among its ranks.

The good news is that 61% of all respondents saw at least a modest bump in their salary over the previous year, even during a pandemically-induced recession, while another 31% saw no change to their salary. The even better news is that 65% of respondents anticipate or have already received a raise in 2021 as well, another clear sign that companies value the efforts of their EHS professionals.

Satisfaction in Abundance

With safety managers facing heightened levels of responsibility thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, it certainly wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that the unprecedented amount of pressure they’ve been under would take its toll. After all, as COVID-19 slowly recedes, we’re seeing an era known as The Great Resignation emerge, making it even more difficult than before to attract, train and retain workers at all levels. So who could blame safety leaders for feeling frustrated?

But guess what? It’s exactly the opposite: 83% of those surveyed said they’re either satisfied or very satisfied with EHS as a career path. Only 3% said they’re unsatisfied, and absolutely nobody—which almost never happens in surveys—said they were very unsatisfied.

The numbers are only slightly less impressive when we asked how satisfied they were with their current job: 76% said they’re satisfied or very satisfied with where they’re working and what they’re doing. Besides the financial appreciation safety leaders have gotten from their organizations in the way of salary increases, respondents also told us they believe top management provides active and visible support for occupational health and safety (86%), while 77% said that their organization prioritizes safety over production or other business demands. While companies always claim they put “safety first,” it’s heartening to hear from safety leaders that in three out of four instances, that in fact is the case.

On the other hand, safety leaders face many challenges on numerous fronts. While the problems of protecting workers throughout a pandemic are well known, we encouraged respondents to share with us some of the biggest challenges they face outside of COVID-19. Overwhelmingly, the most frequently cited challenge is the lack of qualified workers. Here’s just a sampling:

We cannot find people to work. Thus, we are working overtime, and our people are experiencing fatigue.”

“Large-scale turnover and subsequent new-hire onboarding.”

“Older workforce and no succession planning.”

“Encouraging young people to join the profession.”

“Production-driven employees are rushed through proper training.”

“Lack of experience of employees working in the field.”

“Finding workers that want to work for their paycheck.”

Ultimately, the pandemic will run its course and the focus of EHS leaders will shift from business-as-unusual to business-in-the-new-normal. What won’t change is the responsibility that safety professionals bear in keeping their workforce out of harm’s way—not just physically, but in every other way that employees can be threatened, whether it’s helping to safeguard their mental health; championing diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives; encouraging participation in wellness and fitness activities; and, above all, establishing a safety culture that promotes personal accountability for everyone to adhere to safety protocols. 

More findings from the survey:

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