The Most (and Least) Dangerous Jobs in the US
Some jobs are far more hazardous to your health than others, but not always the ones you might think
Reality TV shows like Ax Men and Deadliest Catch have captured the danger and drama of jobs such as logging and crab fishing. But some truly risky jobs are ones that seem tame in comparison. In fact, you or someone you know might have one.
For example, which of these two industries would you guess to be more dangerous: arts, entertainment and recreation or mining?
Believe it or not, people in the first group are more than twice as likely to be injured or become ill at work as those in the second. (One reason is that the category includes such strenuous, injury-prone jobs as dancer and pro athlete.)
If you’re contemplating a new (and possibly safer) career, or you’re curious if your current occupation makes the list, here are some numbers to think about.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) collects a vast amount of data on occupational hazards, ranging from minor injuries to fatalities. It has found that the jobs with the most injuries aren’t always the ones with the worst injuries. And jobs with the worst injuries aren’t always the ones with the most fatalities.
So the first question, says Scott Harris, PhD, director of environmental, health and safety advisory services for UL Workplace Health & Safety, is: What do we mean by “dangerous”?
One way to define it is by focusing on a set of injury stats with the menacing name of DART. (Who says government bureaucrats don’t have a sense of humor?) DART stands for “days away from work, restricted work activity or job transfer.” In other words, ailments serious enough to force people to stay home from work or change their work activities.
According to the DART data, the five most dangerous fields to work in today, based on the percentages of workers injured or made ill over the course of a year, are:
1. State-run nursing and residential care (8.7 percent)
2. Local fire protection (7.3 percent)
3. Passenger air transportation (6.2 percent)
4. Consumer electronics and appliances rental (6.1 percent)
5. Skiing facilities (5.7 percent)
Two of those seem pretty obvious. We all know that firefighters face danger for a living. Skiing also involves some risks, such as trees, ski lifts and other skiers.
But what is it with nursing, air transport and — maybe strangest of all — electronics and appliances rental? All three, it turns out, can be very physical jobs.
Nurses, Harris notes, can do a lot of lifting and patient handling in their daily work. “The classic case is the 110-pound nurse moving the 250-pound patient,” he says.
Air transport workers include people like baggage handlers, whose job seems to take an even greater toll on them than it does on our luggage. The rental folks, too, may be injuring themselves moving heavy objects like refrigerators, washing machines and those large-screen TVs big enough to let you see the sweat spring from every pore of your favorite football player.
That all makes sense when you look at what types of injuries and illnesses keep people off the job. Sprains, strains and tears are the largest single category by far, accounting for 36.7 percent of cases. Others include soreness and pain (17.4 percent), cuts, lacerations and punctures (8.5 percent) and bruises and contusions (8.2 percent).
Job-related illnesses cause a much smaller fraction of lost work days, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently called attention to the apparently widespread problem of job-related asthma.
Not surprisingly, the safest fields tend to involve more heavy thinking than heavy lifting. Topping the list of professions, with the smallest percentage of workers injured or made ill over the course of a year, are:
1. Investment services (0.1 percent)
2. Patent and trademark leasing (0.2 percent)
3. Information services (0.2 percent)
4. Professional, scientific and technical services (0.3 percent)
5. Lending (0.3 percent)
The BLS’s official names for these job categories can be hard to decipher — for example, “Lessors of Nonfinancial Intangible Assets (except Copyrighted Works)” — so we simplified them to give you the general idea.
The three deadliest jobs
In terms of fatalities, the most hazardous occupations are farming, fishing and forestry, with nearly 24 deaths for every 100,000 workers. (Hence shows like Ax Men and Deadliest Catch.) Next is transportation and material moving, with almost 15, and construction and extraction, with just over 12.
Work-related fatalities are fortunately rare in the U.S. and significantly down from decades past. The BLS counted 4,585 in 2013. That represents 3.3 deaths for every 100,000 workers.
Least likely to die on the job were people in sales, with fewer than 2 deaths per 100,000, and management, with about 2 ½.
So, as the numbers show, no job is totally safe, but some are a lot safer than others.
Whatever you do for a living, be careful out there.