OHS salary survey raises more questions than it answers

The information that safesearch has released on its annual salary survey of Australian OHS professional salaries included several curious statements. In media statements released in mid-February 2012 the following was attributed to an interpretation of the survey results:

“… a brain drain triggered by the mining boom has forced employers in other sectors to increase salaries for safety professionals”

“… it appears that companies [in the mining sector] are now being more strategic in their approach by putting an emphasis on their HR and employee branding strategies rather than simply throwing more dollars at the problem”

“The angst surrounding the failure of OHS harmonisation may be overstated, as findings from the safesearch remuneration survey released today show top safety professionals have other priorities….. The majority of respondents said the biggest issue facing organisations was the difficulty in driving the Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) message to all levels of organisations, to promote safety culture and leadership commitment to HSE.”

Brain Drain

It has certainly been the case that Australia’s mining boom has created a shortage of skilled workers.  Whether this has extended to HSE professionals is uncertain. The experience in some industry sectors is that there are plenty of safety professionals but few with sufficient industry experience or the necessary industry-specific qualifications.  It is understood that the mining sector struggled to find HSE professionals with mining experience and this demand/supply is likely to be the major factor in salary increases.  It may be that the mining sector realised that it would need to train lower-qualified HSE professionals on-the-job.

The six-year cumulative data in the safesearch report would benefit from being analysed in line with the larger scale and independent statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Fair Work Australia and Safe Work Australia.

“simply throwing more dollars at the problem”

When commenting on the recent survey, safesearch accuses the mining sector of having tried to solve problems previously by “simply throwing more dollars at the problem.”  If this is the reality, it may be useful to reassess some of the five previous survey reports.

Also HR-friendly phrases like “employee branding” generate concern as the concept is rarely clarified and implies commodification of the workforce.


The statements on harmonisation should be considered with great care.  The timing of the data collection could have affected the opinions of the respondents as in the last quarter of 201 as the debate on harmonisation became increasingly political with specific States withdrawing from, or suspending, the harmonisation of national OHS laws.

Whether the respondents operated on a national or single-State basis is also crucial as in many circumstances, new OHS laws will have minimal impact on organisations that operate in a single State.

Outside the harmonisation variation, the three major issues identified by respondents are little different from previous years – struggling to gain the attention and support of corporate executives and the development of a safety culture.

The safesearch remuneration survey may be six years old but the qualitative questions were new for this survey, as the safesearch Youtube video below  shows.  The depth of useful information provided by comparative qualitative data will need to wait for a few years.

It is difficult to verify the media  statements as the survey report is likely to cost around $A700.   A “teaser” set of statistics has been released but the information is so general that it is not enlightening.

Australia has a shortage of valid independent information about the OHS profession and safesearch should be commended for undertaking, and persisting with, this annual remuneration survey.  However the detailed report is very expensive, which likely reflects the cost of accumulating such data.  The cost also limits the distribution options and thereby the engagement of the profession with the findings.  It is noted that the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA) supports the survey so more information, if not more scrutiny, may appear in future SIA publications.

SafetyAtWorkBlog had serious questions about a similar OHS-related survey, also supported by the SIA, in April 2011.  That survey, conducted through the Australian Institute of Management (AIM) had a broader remit and larger survey sample.  AIM also produces an annual National Salary Survey (around the same price as safesearch’s report).  The OHS profession would benefit greatly from these organisations coordinating their data collection to achieve the clearest indication of the economic health of the OHS profession and the standing of OHS in the Australian corporate mentality.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories business, evidence, law, OHS, research, safetyTags , , , ,

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