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10 Most Dangerous Jobs in the US

by Ryan Guina

Is a Job Worth Your Life?

Last year 4,340 people died on the job. That is a huge number of lives lost and families affected, but the interesting fact is that number is a 16.8% decrease from 2008, and the rate of 3.3 deaths per 100,000 workers is the lowest ever reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What follows is a list of the 10 most dangerous jobs in the US, in terms of fatalities per 100,000 workers.

America’s 10 Most Dangerous Jobs

1. Fisherman: Fatality rate: 200 per 100,000 – Median wages: $23,600. I was surprised to see fishermen top the list of the most dangerous professions in the US, but then I remembered watching a few episodes of Deadliest Catch. Fishermen are routinely exposed to the elements and heavy equipment, all of which can be dangerous. The recent oil spill in the gulf exposed thousands of fishermen to oil and other chemical pollutants, so we may see the effects from that in the near future. Is it worth it? Some Alaskan fishermen have earned up to $100,000 for only a couple days work. But as you can see, most fishermen only scrape by, earning median wages of $23,600.

2. Logger: Fatality rate: 61.8 per 100,000 – Median wages: $34,440. Logging is the number two most dangerous job on the list, but a quick look at the numbers shows over 3 times as many fishermen die from work related injuries than the number two item on the list. Loggers work with heavy equipment and often in remote locations; the location and lack of full medical facilities often increasing the risk of injury related deaths.

3. Airline Pilots: Fatality rate: 57.1 per 100,000 – Median wages: $106,240. This statistic might be a little misleading as there aren’t many commercial airline crashes in the US in any given year. Most pilot deaths come from small one and two engine aircraft. The salary might be slightly misleading as well – it seems to be skewed toward higher paid commercial airline pilots, who generally have a safer job than other pilots. Still, piloting is a dangerous profession, even with new technology and arguably the safest aircraft and procedures in the history of man.

4. Farmers and ranchers: Fatality rate: 35.8 per 100,000 – Median wages: $32,350. Farmers are exposed to the elements, heavy machinery, large animals, and many other dangerous activities. Many farmers also work under pressure. For example, growing crops takes all season, but harvesting usually needs to be completed as quickly as possible because the machinery often needs to be used at other locations.

5. Roofers: Fatality rate: 34.7 per 100,000 – Median wages: $33,970. Roofing is a difficult and dangerous profession with injuries related to falls, tools and equipment, hot tar, exposure to the elements and more.

6. Ironworkers: Fatality rate: 30.3 per 100,000 – Median wages: $44,500. Have you ever seen a skyscraper being built? It’s amazing to watch those guys walking across a couple inch piece of steel several hundred feet above the street. It’s also incredibly dangerous. Safety measures and regulations have come a long way in the last few decades, but this is still one of the most dangerous professions.

7. Sanitation Worker: Fatality rate: 25.2 per 100,000 – Median wages: $32,070. Large equipment, and exposure to chemicals and the elements make this a more dangerous profession than many would assume.

8. Industrial machinist: Fatality rate: 18.5 per 100,000 – Median wages: $39,600. Accidents with heavy machinery are the most common cause of death for this career field.

9. Truckers and drivers/sales delivery workers: Fatality rate: 18.3 per 100,000 – Median wages: $37,730. Truck drivers don’t lead the list the list in terms of deaths per 100,000 workers, but they actually lead the list when it comes to total numbers of deaths because there are more truckers and deliverymen than the other professions. Accidents and weather are the main causes of death on the job.

10. Construction laborer: Fatality rate: 18.3 per 100,000 – Median wages: $29,150. Heavy machinery and accidents with construction equipment lead the way.

Dangerous Professions that didn’t make the cut

I was surprised the list provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics didn’t include professions such as firefighters, policemen, and military members – people who risk their lives on a daily basis. But this list only includes deaths per 100,000 workers, not the inherent danger of working in that career field or the number of serious accidents or injuries. Obviously, people who are willing to run into a running building to save someone, work undercover in a gang unit, or engage in combat are exposing themselves to more danger than the average worker.

Here are my thoughts on other dangerous professions and why people choose to work in those jobs.

What are your thoughts on working in a dangerous profession?

source: Les Christie, CNN staff writer.


Published or updated September 13, 2010.
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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 John

To be honest, I would have thought law enforcement would have been much more dangerous than being a farmer. My grandparents are farmers and it seems like one of the least stressful and most laid back jobs I can think of.

Fisherman also seemed a bit odd to me as being dangerous.

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2 Ryan

I had the same thoughts before seeing the numbers. But it makes sense when you think of how dangerous commercial fishing can be – considering the heavy machinery/equipment and exposure to the elements. Farming has similar factors.

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3 Prostruction

I know my profession of roofing is dangerous. My uncle was a roofer and fell off a roof and died. I just fell from a second story roof to the first story roof when the ladder I was on slid out from under me. The funny thing about that is I was setting up the safety gear for the crew.

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4 Abacus

You are talking about recreational fishing, I guess? Professional fishing is a different story. Image yourself working with nets on a small boat in cold and stormy ocean.

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5 burned-out medic

i really appreciate your thoughts on emergency services. and i appreciate people like you who serve in the military.

meanwhile, there are so many people who are quick to use simplistic lists like this one to loudly proclaim that our jobs aren’t dangerous. but then again, you and i both already know how thankless our jobs are.

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6 JimAlaska

Of course commercial fishing is dangerous. I cannot count how many people I have known that have died fishing crab in the Bering Sea. I remember some of course, like my best friend at the time. Do some of you really think it is like fly fishing in some stream? Wow! You really do live in a different world!

BTW, those stats are not just fishermen but all fishery workers which includes processors ( essentially shore side factory workers), If the it was only true fishermen both the death rate and the pay scale would be much higher. If it were to be reduced down to Bering Sea crab fishermen it would be much, much higher on both counts. I believe the death rate is double. I am not certain on the pay rate but no one on my boat makes less than $100K a year for four to five months work.

Really, some of you watch too much TV if you think being a policeman is a dangerous job. Why don’t you come on out for a week on the Bering Sea and see what danger is about? The truth is the vast majority of you could not do the job. Not because of the danger but because of the physical work. Sorry, but that is just a fact that I have learned over decades. Most people, no matter their previous background, cannot do the job. Yeah, you name it. I have had Navy Seals, Army Rangers, college athletes, all not only not up to the job but quit.

Things are much easier now with IFQ and I would say anyone can do it now if the captain is willing to let them slack. This system is only five year old though and most skippers are still stuck in the old school way. Even with a captain that lets the crew slack a bit it is still tough. It’s still 18 hours a day and weather that most of you can’t even imagine.

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7 Mike

Police, fire and military are in no way as dangerous as the commercial industries listed. Most people fail to consider that many firemen work an entire career and never rush into a burning building to save anyone. I have a good friend who is about to retire as a fireman and he has told me for years he spends most of his time responding to a ridiculous 911 medical call in the middle of the night. He also tells me that fires are not nearly as commonplace as they once were.

Ditto police and military. There are tens of thousands who never fire their weapon except on the firing range. The death and injury rates per 100,000 tell the tale. But we do have a reverence for the police, and firemen that is reflected in their retirement and health benefits.

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8 Jan

My husband has a roofing business and my brother in law is a fisherman in Alaska. Both of these jobs are more dangerous than any military or police type job.

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9 Roger

I agree. While i do respect the inherent dangers that policemen and firemen “may” have to subject themselves to during their career,like all other jobs,it was their choice. They chose to do it and most are paid very well with early retirement to boot. With the exception of maybe the commercial airline pilot, i don’t see one job on this list that affords early retirement or many ,if any of the “perks” that come with being a cop or firefighter. I do tip my hat to volunteer firefighters and EMT’s however,they are the backbone of urban emergency response.
It makes me sick when i see a taxpayer funded parade of cars for a fallen policeman, no matter if he died on the job or not,when i have had to pass the hat for way too many of my injured and killed brothers in the high voltage electrical industry, which by the way, i am happy is no longer in the top ten. Just like every other “hazardous” job,we work long hours,usualy away from home,missing our families,outside in all different kinds of weather putting our lives in danger every single day,all day…not 90% boredom with 10% sheer terror,but more like 100% “you better be paying attention or you’ll get yourself or someone else hurt or killed”. The only time we make the media is just that too, when someone gets killed,and of course they find a way to pin the blame on the lineman,or fisherman,or ironworker,or whatever you might do…and the only parade you’ll get (or want ) is the line of pickups following a long black hearse to the cemetary,fighting traffic naturally…To anybody that has a hazardous job, and doesn’t have to rely on ,or even want public or media admiration,who just quietly goes to work everyday and does what they are paid to do to pay the bills and to keep the wheels of this great country spinning,i say thankyou,you are the lifeblood of this nation.Work safe.

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