Print Share

Spotlight on OHS salaries: what roles are in demand and pay the most money?

Tuesday, 5 March, 2019 - 13:00
Industry news
National News

There has been an across-the-board softening in total take home remuneration of health, safety and environment professionals, according to a recent remuneration survey conducted by safesearch.

It found that while base salaries are remaining stable, those with a short-term incentive (STI) or an annual bonus component of their remuneration plans, are failing to achieve 100 per cent of their on-target earnings (OTE), with STI criteria often comprising components outside of individuals control (such as overall company performance).

Luke Borg, general manager of safesearch, observed that there has been one exception to this, with the more junior OHS Officer/Coordinator positions still trending upwards in remuneration, as he said demand for this position continues to be very strong.

The findings of safesearch’s latest annual HSE remuneration survey were recently presented at the SIA and Herbert Smith Freehills Annual OHS Breakfast in Melbourne, and attendees heard that there are ongoing major talent shortages, as major infrastructure projects around the country absorb experienced OHS talent at all levels, from site-based staff through to strategic OHS directors.

In 2019, major tunnelling projects including the Metro and the West Gate Tunnels in Melbourne, entered into peak stages having recently broken ground, said Borg.

“With these projects (along with others) having a high profile/high risk, and seeking similar OHS skillsets, we are seeing positions remaining unfilled for longer, and then being filled with individuals with lesser experience than the original requirement,” he observed.

“This demand, combined with the ever-present talent shortage, has seen salaries strongly driven north, particularly in the previously mentioned OHS Officer/Coordinator role, with the role commanding anything from $70,000 through to $130,000.”

Borg also observed that tenure levels for these roles have fallen, as the temptation of a pay increase by simply changing employer is far too great.

“This variability in like roles is now quite common, and a difficult area to navigate and justify for our clients (and safesearch) offering salaries on the lesser side,” he said.

“We recently had a safety manager from a construction background come to us looking for a new role, seeking a salary package of $150,000.

“We worked together to secure this person a great role at a package of $155,000, which was accepted, but days later was rejected in favour of another offer for a similar role … for a $250,000 package.

“Our client simply couldn’t compete,” he said.

Ironically, one way to combat the forces of supply and demand is to hire from industries where there is decline, said Borg.

“However, while there is an openness to looking at potential OHS candidates from outside sectors (with the view to providing them with industry specific training), the fact is, it’s mostly those that are coming from like-for-like sectors are securing the position,” he said.

“The same can be said for individuals with experience from abroad (though not in NZ), whom in the eyes of many clients, carry too much risk, uncertainty and additional requirements (such as sponsorship, visa applications, relocation and localisation).”

With such skills shortages, candidates might ask the question as to why employers are very picky around good OHS talent, and Borg said that many organisations are running so lean (or in the case of the above-mentioned projects – time critically) that there simply isn’t the time or resources to on-board someone who isn’t able to hit the ground running.

“For this reason, we are seeing a spike in the remuneration demands of candidates moving positions, as opposed to those who have remained with the same organisation,” he said.

Internally, this is putting a lot of pressure on budgets, and is forcing hiring managers to hire to budget rather than position/skillset requirement.

“As hiring professionals at safesearch, we are concerned at the minimal level of new talent entering the industry, and what this will mean for the future needs of the sector,” said Borg.

This demand and candidate shortage is driving an increase in the number of contract and consulting engagements, where clients can fill their immediate needs with a resource for a period of time (which may not fit their long-term needs) but provides them with a here-and-now solution.

Borg also said the OHS sector continues to evolve and mature, particularly in organisations that carry a significantly higher risk profile (such as mining, construction, waste and medical) and where operations can grind to a halt as a result of an incident.

“The emphasis is now very much on a proactive rather than reactive approach, where OHS professionals are responsible for embedding their strategy into those delivering day-to-day operations, processes and procedures,” he said.

“It is also encouraging to know that some of the C-suite leadership of these organisations even have OHS targets make up the criteria of their annual bonus.”

Those chasing the bigger dollars can no longer look to the mining sector, according to Borg, who said that while there has been positive activity and employment demand in the mining services space, safety professionals need to settle for salaries that have returned to broader industry levels.

The same can be said for FIFO (fly in fly out) roles, which are now in general not paying much more than residential roles – and combined with the impact these roles have on families, is making them a lot less desirable.