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What Are The Most Dangerous Job In The US

By David Krug David Krug is the CEO & President of Bankovia. He's a lifelong expat who has lived in the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, and Colombia. When he's not reading about cryptocurrencies, he's researching the latest personal finance software. 7 minute read

Work-related injuries claimed the lives of 5,250 American employees in 2018, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, the real rate of fatal work injuries remained constant owing to growth in the labor force, hence the rise was just 2% from the previous year.

Workplace safety in the United States has improved somewhat during the previous 15 years. As of 2018, there were 3.5 workplace fatalities for every 100,000 full-time equivalent employees, down from 4.5 in 2006.

There are still tasks in the workplace that present significant hazards. Deaths in the workplace were most frequently caused by transportation accidents, followed by slips, trips, and falls. 

Following closely behind were events involving aggression by humans and animals, including suicides in the workplace, and contact with items and equipment, which includes workers becoming stuck in running mechanical machinery and being injured by falling objects.

The dangers faced by workers in fields where these factors predominate are greater. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the following occupations in this category: loggers, fishermen, airplane pilots, roofers, cleaners, and truck drivers. It’s probably not a coincidence that many jobs requiring this kind of work pay highly. Is that saying they are safe enough to trust?

That’s an inherently private inquiry. Risk is something that workers on the whole have various levels of comfort with. Consider the economic and non-economic rewards of a career in a sector with a high prevalence of workplace injuries and fatalities before making a decision. Start with this list of the most hazardous jobs in the United States.

The Most Dangerous Jobs in the United States

Bureau of Labor Statistics statistics on workplace deaths and injuries, including the mortality rate for each occupation per 100,000 full-time equivalent employees, ranked these as some of the riskiest for American workers.

Despite the prevalence of high-risk industries such as construction, agriculture, natural resource extraction, and transportation among these jobs, the latter are not the only ones to be found. While some of these jobs may weather an economic downturn without much trouble, others may not fare as well.

This list includes anticipated incomes and job growth over the next decade to give a more complete sense of the trade-offs inherent to these fields and their overall appeal to people considering career transitions.

  1. Logging
  • Total Annual Fatal Workplace Injuries: 75 Deaths per 100,000 Workers: 132
  • Total 2019 Employment: 56,900 Median Annual Wage: $41,230
  • Employment growth is expected to be -13% from 2019 to 2029. (-7,500 jobs)

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that logging is the most risky industry in the United States. This is probably because of how accessible hazards in the forestry industry are to everyone.

  1. Fishing
  • Total Fatal Workplace Injuries Per Year: 30
  • Annual Deaths Per 100,000 Workers: 81
  • Total Employment (2019): 36,700
  • Median Annual Wage (2017): $28,530
  • Projected Employment Growth (2019 to 2029): -8% (-2,800 jobs)

Workers in the fishing industry face many of the same hazards as those in the logging industry, including cold, wet weather, heavy equipment that may easily be misused or malfunction, and turbulent seas that increase the chance of serious or deadly slips and falls.

In addition, many fishermen spend days, even weeks, at a time at sea, often hundreds of miles from land and any kind of medical care. The risk-reward ratio isn’t great in the fishing sector due to the low income and lackluster long-term growth prospects.

  1. Delivery and truck driving

Driving for local delivery services, long-distance trucks, and intermediate-distance logistics all fall under this umbrella phrase.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that “heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers” had the greatest absolute incidence of fatal workplace accidents in 2018, with 831 reported. It was easier for the drivers of smaller delivery vehicles like vans and box trucks. However, accidents on the open road and catastrophes involving large stock or loading equipment are risks shared by all trucking and delivery drivers.

Employment for truckers and delivery drivers is predicted to increase at a higher-than-average rate in the coming decade. However, compensation isn’t a forte in this sector.

  1. Roofing

Roof work isn’t as dangerous or lonely as logging or fishing. Roofing contractors often go home at the end of the day.

However, this does not make the task any easier. When working at heights of two or three stories, roofers frequently do so without the protection of harnesses or solid railings. When not used properly, tools like nail guns can cause serious injury. In addition, they are frequently subjected to harsh weather, such as intense heat and sudden downpours.

Roofing is a good profession since it pays well and has a moderate chance of expanding in the next few years.

  1. Aircraft Piloting and Flight Engineering
  • Total Fatal Workplace Injuries Per Year: 70
  • Annual Deaths Per 100,000 Workers: 55
  • Total Employment (2019): 127,100
  • Median Annual Wage (2019): $121,430
  • Projected Employment Growth (2019 to 2029): 5% (6,100)

The number of people killed in plane crashes involving commercial airlines has been going down for years. From 2005 to 2019, the number of fatalities involving big commercial aircraft has decreased from over a thousand to 257, as reported by Reuters.

Despite this encouraging trend, flying is still not completely risk-free. Neither does it take into consideration the several times increased risk associated with commercial flights made by smaller aircraft.

Pilots and flight engineers continue to confront far higher risks on the job than the general workforce. Employment opportunities for these specialists will continue strong until the end of the 2020s, and they are paid competitively.

  1. Collection of Refuse and Recyclable Materials (Sanitation)
  • Total Fatal Workplace Injuries Per Year: 37
  • Annual Deaths Per 100,000 Workers: 31
  • Total Employment (2019): 121,330
  • Median Annual Wage (2019): $41,400
  • Projected Employment Growth (2019 to 2029): 3% (3,600 jobs)

Someone needs to undertake the “dirty job” of collecting trash and recyclables. We should all be grateful to those who work in sanitation for another reason: it’s a lot more dangerous than most people think. Workers in this industry endure long hours hunched over noisy, bulky, and sometimes dangerous trash compactors and clinging to the backs of slow-moving trucks carrying huge loads that may or may not contain hazardous materials.

Obviously, this isn’t a profession for the weak of heart. The good news is that the job market for those who collect trash and recyclables is expected to develop rapidly in the next few years, and that workers may expect to earn a good living wage.

  1. Landscaping, Groundskeeping, and Lawn Service Supervision
  • Total Fatal Workplace Injuries Per Year: 48
  • Annual Deaths Per 100,000 Workers: 28
  • Total Employment (2019): 170,700
  • Median Annual Wage (2019): $49,370
  • Projected Employment Growth (2019 to 2029): 11% (19,400 jobs)

The first-line managers of landscaping, groundskeeping, and lawn service have shockingly risky tasks, similar to those of sanitation employees, but with better working conditions and less unpleasant odors.

These workers frequently encounter hazardous situations, including but not limited to working near heavy, sharp equipment and driving or riding on uneven, unpaved surfaces in specialized vehicles that were not designed with comfort in mind.

The conditions for their subordinates are not much better. The actual risk of fatal occupational injury is greater for supervisory employees, but the absolute number of deaths among non-supervisory groundskeeping and landscaping workers exceeds that of their supervisors by a factor of four. The bright side, as always, is higher-than-average salary and rapid job growth forecasts.

  1. Agricultural Work (Farming and Ranching)
  • Total Fatal Workplace Injuries Per Year: 257
  • Annual Deaths Per 100,000 Workers: 27
  • Total Employment (2019): 952,300
  • Median Annual Wage (2019): $71,160
  • Projected Employment Growth (2019 to 2029): -6% (-61,600 jobs)

Agriculture encompasses a wide range of careers, from farmers and ranchers to those who work in niche areas of the industry. Farmers and ranchers labor with heavy machinery, sharp tools, slow-moving vehicles, and obstinate animals, just like workers in other industries that produce, manage, or extract natural resources and agricultural goods. Despite the high median wage, their industry is dying as a result of unrelenting automation and consolidation.

  1. Construction and Extraction Supervision

Workers in the wide category of first-line construction and extraction supervisors suffer substantial hazards to life and limb on the job as well. People in these roles are regularly put in danger because they work closely with individuals who operate dangerous equipment like excavators and pile trucks.

It’s interesting to note that the BLS reports that operators and laborers of extraction and construction equipment (construction and extraction employees) had lower rates of fatal workplace accidents than their first-line supervisors. However, the salary and advancement opportunities for supervisors in the construction and extraction industries are also above average.

  1. Structural Iron and Steel Working

Ironworkers and steelworkers in the structural industry frequently face risky conditions, including working at heights and handling heavy materials and tools. Although thankfully uncommon due to the availability of safety equipment, injuries from falls of tens or hundreds of feet, as well as those from blunt-force trauma and crushing industries caused by poorly fastened beams or tools, can be devastating. Benefits include above-average employment growth projections through the end of the 2020s, in addition to competitive salaries.

Bottom Line

Risk in the workplace cannot be eliminated completely, at least not in the foreseeable future. Whether it’s inherent to the task itself or incurred throughout the course of performing it, like traveling to and from the office in an automobile or using an elevator, every profession comes with its own set of dangers.

It has become clear that not all workers are exposed to the same risks. Those who work in industries that require them to travel, operate large pieces of equipment, or be exposed to hazardous environments (such as stormy seas or high locations), take on greater risk than their desk-bound counterparts.

Jobs in the high-risk industries of construction, resource extraction, and transportation often pay better than those in the lower-risk, non-college degree sector. Although all of these positions involve some form of on-the-job training, some demand very little in the way of prior experience and hence appeal greatly to younger workers who would rather forego physical safety in exchange for better wages.

But it doesn’t imply we can ignore the costs and benefits involved. It should go without saying that every death in the workplace is one too many. No one’s loved ones should ever have to wonder if they’ll be safe making it home from work.

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