Our poll of more than 2300 safety and health professionals gives insights into pay rates, qualifications and how practitioners have been affected personally and professionally by the coronavirus pandemic.
Our online salary survey questionnaire, which ran between 30 November 2021 and 17 December 2021, drew 2333 useable responses, more than 95% of them from IOSH members.
As well as details on pay and benefits, the survey covered topics from the number of years respondents have worked in the safety and health sector to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on wellbeing.
The results create a fascinating picture of the status and state of the profession as we enter 2022.
The survey sample
As Figure 1 overleaf shows, around 90% of our sample is based in the British Isles, and almost three-quarters are in England. Just over a fifth are in the South East, including London.
Nearly a third of respondents are 45 to 54 years old, and the age distribution was similar across all sectors (see Figure 2). Only around one in six practitioners is under 35 and more than a quarter are aged 55 or over. This has changed little since our 2017 survey, which ran between between 14 March and 14 April and drew 2310 responses, so the need to recruit more people to the profession will become more pressing in the coming years.
Female OSH professionals accounted for 29.8% of the sample and males 69.9%. Two respondents identified as non-binary and six preferred not to state their gender. The proportion of female practitioners has increased slightly, from 25% in our 2017 survey. Among those aged under 35, the proportion of female practitioners rises to 39%, indicating that the gender balance may continue to shift.
As Figure 3 shows, the greatest single proportion work in organisations with 1000 to 5000 employees. While many of the smallest companies were consultancies, those with more than 500,000 employees included some in the NHS.
Broken down by broad sector, the directly employed sample was: 72.5% from the private sector, 22.2% the public sector and 5.3% from the charity/third sector.
We asked respondents to choose from a small range of job titles, choosing the one closest to their own. By far the most common title was safety and health manager, accounting for more than a third of the sample, followed by safety and health officers/advisers, who made up almost another third. A majority of the 84 self-employed practitioners in our survey sample (58 respondents) are health and safety consultants. The breakdown by job title for all respondents was:
- Safety and health apprentice – 0.5%
- Safety and health trainee/graduate – 1.1%
- Safety and health assistant/coordinator – 4.2%
- Safety and health officer/adviser – 30.9%
- Safety and health consultant – 9.2%
- Safety and health manager – 36.8%
- Safety and health trainer – 1.5%
- Head of safety and health – 11.7%
- Safety and health director – 4.1%
Respondents were asked to identify the sector they worked in, and the results are shown in Figure 4. The construction and manufacturing sectors are strongly represented, accounting for a combined total of more than two-fifths of the sample.
Respondents could choose as many qualifications as they held from a list. The proportions were as follows:
- British Safety Council certificate: 1.8%
- NCRQ certificate: 6%
- SHE apprenticeship 0.7%
- NEBOSH certificate: 6.5%
- NVQ Level 3: 5.3%
- IOSH Level 3 certificate: 2.9%
- IOSH Managing Safely: 29.5%
- NEBOSH construction certificate: 14.3%
- British Safety Council diploma: 2.2%
- NVQ Level 6: 15%
- NCRQ diploma: 5.3%
- NEBOSH diploma: 25.7%
- Bachelor’s degree: 16.5%
- Postgraduate diploma: 9.1%
- MSc: 10.2%
- PhD: 1.3%
Compared with our last survey five years ago, the level of higher qualifications has increased. The proportion with bachelor’s degrees has risen from 6.5% to 16.5%, while the number with doctorates has doubled, albeit only to 30 people of the 2333 responses we received.
Half of the directly employed OSH practitioners in our sample had no direct reports. Most of those with direct reports were in charge of between one and five people (30.2%). There were 42 respondents – many of them in the construction sector – who had 100 to 499 direct reports and 14 (0.5%) who said they managed more than 500 people. These are presumably not direct reports or our respondents would have little time for anything but annual appraisals.
The number of worksites practitioners oversee ranges from single premises to more than 500. In this latter category around one in three was a director or head of safety and health. The median number of sites managed is between six and 10.
The average annual budget managed by employed practitioners was £10,000 to £20,000 but, as in past surveys, almost half the sample (45.4%) say they control no funding at all. At the highest end were 103 OSH professionals who oversaw budgets of more than £500,000 a year. Most of these worked in organisations with workforces numbering in the thousands, and many were in high-hazard sectors such as construction, utilities and mining.
Including those who are self-employed or freelance, respondents have held their current jobs for two to five years on average. This was the case for around half the sample (47.8%). At the ends of the spectrum, 21.2% had been in post for less than a year, and only 3% had been in the same post for 20 years or more.
A broader question revealed respondents had been working in safety and health for an average of 10 to 20 years (reported by 32.4% of the sample), with only 2.9% having been in the sector for less than a year – most of whom were apprentices, trainees and safety advisers.
We asked respondents to state their salary to the nearest thousand pounds (converted, if necessary, from any other currency) from £15,000 to £80,000; then in £10,000 bands above that level, up to £100,000; then in £25,000 bands up to £150,000. At the highest end, 12 respondents are paid more than £150,000; these mostly have ‘director’ in their job titles and are grouped in the construction, manufacturing and mining and quarrying sectors. At the other end, 35 respondents in full-time posts reported earning less than £15,000 a year. Here, adviser and officer grades dominated and most respondents were from outside the UK, most commonly from the Middle East and Africa.
The average salary figure we use is the median. This measure is preferred by pay analysts as it gives a more reliable figure than a mean average, which can be skewed by a few very high or low earners.
The median for all full-time employed practitioners, ranging from apprentices to directors and from affiliate members to Chartered Fellows, was £43,000 – an 8% increase from the £40,000 average in our 2017 survey. For comparison, the average salary for UK human resources professionals is £35,247, according to Reed Associates.
The median annual earnings for self-employed respondents is £50,000; but with only 84 practitioners in this sub-sample, this figure may not be representative of all practitioners working for themselves (see Figure 5).
Half of all full-time safety and health managers are paid in the range £39,000 to £55,000. The equivalent for safety and health officers or advisers is £30,000 to £42,000 and for heads of safety and health £52,000 to £73,000.
Where enough respondents were grouped in a single industry, we have stated the median for full-time employed and self-employed respondents. The figures for sectors with fewer than 100 respondents bear less weight, but the overall pattern seems to support the common perception that practitioners in public services sectors such as healthcare and social assistance and public administration (including central and local government) are paid less than the average, while those in higher-hazard fields such as construction, mining and utilities earn more.
The large sample of safety and health managers (204) in construction enabled us to calculate that they are paid an average of £50,000. Similarly, the 188 managers in manufacturing were paid an average of £45,000.
In our previous survey, we noted a gender pay gap of £2000 between the average salary for all full-time female respondents and their male counterparts. That gap still exists – the median salary for full-time employed female OSH professionals is £43,000, roughly the same as the median for the whole profession; the male equivalent is £45,000. Some of this gap could be explained by the higher proportion of female respondents in the younger age groups in our sample; however, it mirrors the UK’s gender pay gap across all sectors, measured at 7.9% in 2021 by the Office for National Statistics (ONS, 2021) (see Figure 6).
Salary by age group
When salaries for safety and health managers were broken down by age, our overall median salary of £46,000 for the position was matched by those in the 35- to 44-year-old age group, but as Figure 7 shows, older managers earn more and younger ones earn less. The samples were too small for managers under 25 and those aged 65 and over to produce a median figure for either group (see Figure 7).
Salary by IOSH membership level
Almost all the sample (96.2%) are IOSH members. Of these, the majority are divided evenly between three membership levels: CMIOSH, attained by 29.6% of members; GradIOSH, at 28.3% (637); and TechIOSH, at 27.3%. Chartered Fellows account for only 2.1% of member respondents, and associate members only 3.9%.
As in our previous survey, average salaries for members working full-time seem to indicate clear financial rewards for joining the Institution and for the effort involved in moving through the membership grades. However, the figure for the sample of Chartered Fellows, though it continues the pay progression shown in other membership levels, must be treated with some caution as it is based on a small sample.
Length of membership and CPD
Respondents have been IOSH members for six to 10 years on average. One in eight (12.6% of member respondents) joined in the year before the survey, while 29 respondents (1.3%) had more than 30 years’ membership under their belts.
Respondents completed an average 10 to 24 hours of CPD in the 12 months to December, with 41.8% giving this range. Almost a quarter (23.2%) completed fewer than 10 hours’ CPD while 11.6% completed more than 100 hours. Almost two-thirds of employed respondents said their employer paid for CPD time (see Figure 8).
We asked employed respondents whether their performance is assessed. Most (83.5%) said that it is. The most common measure of performance was ‘objectives and appraisals’, which was cited by 64.4%. Others included lagging indicators of accident rates (32.5%) and near misses (32%), but also KPI targets (39.7%) and audits (28.5%). Ten respondents said they were measured on accident statistics alone. Only 21.7% of those who were assessed said it was linked to their pay.
Almost half of the employed respondents (46.5%) received a bonus on top of their salary in the 12 months before the survey. The median bonus was 5% of pay, but 181 respondents said the extra payments had been worth 10% or more.
Figure 9 shows that salaries were frozen for almost half the full- and part-time employed respondents, who received no increase at their most recent pay review in the 12 months before the survey. Including this group, the median salary increase for all employed respondents was 1%. By contrast, data from XpertHR shows that the median pay increase for employees across the whole economy was 2% through most of 2021, and ticked up slightly to 2.2% in the three months to November (XpertHR, 2021). A small number of respondents (8.6%) were awarded increases (excluding promotions) of 5% or more.
Figure 10 shows common non-salary benefits that employed respondents are entitled to. More than two in five had no pension arrangement provided by their employer. The small majority who did were in company pension schemes, though fewer – mostly older – respondents were guaranteed defined benefit or final salary schemes than were in money purchase arrangements, which do not insulate their retirement fund from market performance.
As Figure 11 shows, OSH professionals are mostly happy in their work. More than four times as many are moderately or very happy in their work than those who are unsatisfied. Contentment levels varied only minimally from the overall proportions when broken down by salary level, most recent pay rise, age or gender.
Although more than two-fifths of practitioners (45%) are not thinking of moving jobs in the foreseeable future, a small majority have itchy feet. Surveys across all employment sectors in the UK and US show that, either because of or despite the upheaval caused by COVID-19, intention to switch jobs is higher than pre-pandemic levels. We have no pre-2020 control sample for OSH practitioners, but the fact that 22% are planning to move jobs in the next 12 months seems high. Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Manchester Business School, has suggested that increased job mobility may be driven by the tendency of people to respond to an eventuality they have little or no control over by making changes to elements of their lives where they still have agency.
Weathering the pandemic
The work of OSH professionals commonly involves a lot of time spent on-site carrying out risk assessments or advising and training those who do. But 40% say they have worked solely or mainly at home since the first lockdown was announced in March 2020. Only 37.2% said their work pattern had been unaffected
and had been mostly at their normal workplace.
When asked how the pandemic had affected their earnings, practitioners responded as follows:
- My earnings have been reduced: 17.4%
- There has been no impact on my earnings: 79%
- My earnings have increased: 3%
The 3% who had seen their remuneration increase presumably benefited from the greater demand for safety and health expertise. But among the 17.4% whose personal finances had been hit by earnings cuts, almost half (7.9% of the whole sample) had seen cuts exceeding 10% of their income. Nevertheless, only around one in four of this hardest-hit group was unsatisfied with their position. Almost one in 10 employed respondents said they had been furloughed, and another 3.9% had been put on reduced hours. A similar proportion (3.8%) had been made redundant.
As Figure 12 shows, although more than two-thirds of employees felt supported by their employers, significant minorities have felt emotional stress during the COVID-19 crisis (one in 12 even sought help), and a fifth of the sample felt their work had been affected.
Home working and productivity
Among the 62.8% who have been working at least half their hours at home since the pandemic began, around half said they worked longer hours, and only 5.6% worked fewer hours.
Asked about their productivity, 40.6% believed they were more productive working at home (see Figure 13). The vast majority believe their productivity is at least the same as in their normal workplaces, and only 15.5% feel they get less done at home.
Work/life balance during the pandemic’s upheaval was generally rated positively; 76.2% said they had maintained a good balance always or most of the time, and only 8% said the balance had not been good.
‘There have been days where I worked a lot extra, especially in the early stages of the pandemic,’ said one manager in the food and accommodation services sector. ‘It did allow me to see more of my family as I was at home and not having to travel to and from sites.’ His comment was typical of those who were generally positive about home working.
These findings, if they hold true for other professions, make it easy to see why employers are finding a ready audience among staff for hybrid work schemes.
Three out of five respondents (61%) said their jobs had not changed as a result of the pandemic. Among the remainder, the most common change cited was, unsurprisingly, a reduction in travel and more remote working.
We asked if respondents believed the pandemic had affected their career prospects in safety and health. The results, shown in Figure 14, are heartening. A third of our sample thought their job prospects had improved and another 58.6% believed they had been unaffected. Among those citing a positive influence, the greatest number who commented noted either the skills development that had resulted from supporting employees through a global health crisis, or the fact that the profession’s profile had been raised by it. ‘Safety officers are in demand!’ said one practitioner in transport and logistics.
Among the small minority (7.5%) who believed their career chances had been damaged, the most common reasons given were that there are more highly qualified people chasing job openings as a result of study during lockdowns and a lack of internal job opportunities in organisations because people were staying put while the pandemic lasted.
Finally, we asked if working through the pandemic had changed respondents’ views on OSH more generally. Two in five practitioners said their views had changed. The most common response was that the crisis had raised respondents’ awareness of the importance of mental health issues. Another theme was that the experience had deepened respondents’ professional capabilities. ‘I feel we have all learned to be much more adaptable in response to the pandemic,’ said one.
Next: watch our video showcasing the highlights from the survey
Image credit | Shutterstock
ONS. (2021) Gender pay gap in the UK: 2021 (accessed 14 February 2022).
XpertHR. (2021) Pay trends December 2021: signs of pay pressure starting to show (accessed 14 February 2022).