The Deadliest Occupations Tend to Involve Very Risky Locations & Heavy MachineryWhat does a bad day at your job look like? If you’re a white-collar worker, a bad day could mean paperwork mistakes, missed deadlines, or losing a client. If you’re a blue-collar worker in one of the nation’s deadliest jobs, a bad day could be much worse. It could bring horrific accidents, catastrophic injury, or even death.
Recently, those bad days have been happening more and more. In fact, since 2014, job-related deaths have soared by 9% (source: BLS).
So, which jobs are seeing the most fatal accidents and injuries? They’re mostly the same ones that have earned this notorious distinction for years. For 2020, the top 10 most dangerous jobs were (source: BLS):
Aircraft Pilots & Flight Engineers
Derrick Operators in Oil, Gas & Mining
Read on to learn more about the dangers inherent to each profession and how often workers in each occupation are killed in deadly accidents. To jump to a section or specific occupation below, simply click on a linked job title above. All data referenced below has been sourced from BLS.
33 times more dangerous than the average jobFatal injury rate (per 100,000 workers): 111Total fatalities: 49
Logging workers have the single most dangerous job in the U.S. While about 1 in 3 deadly logging accidents involves transportation incidents — like a logging truck accident — most on-the-job deaths for logging workers happen when they come into contact with certain objects or equipment. Typically, that means getting struck by an object or getting crushed by falling items or materials.
Dangers of Logging Work
Loggers work outdoors in isolated environments, using chainsaws, logging machinery, and other industrial equipment to harvest forests. Those conditions, along with falling trees, working at elevated heights, and driving 18-wheeler logging trucks, create several risks for those who work as loggers.
2. Aircraft Pilots & Flight Engineers
16 times more dangerous than the average jobFatal injury rate (per 100,000 workers): 53Total fatalities: 85
Transportation incidents are the leading cause of job-related deaths for aircraft pilots and flight engineers, who have the second most dangerous job in the U.S. In fact, last year, more than 150 aircraft incidents harmed these workers. While nearly half of these accidents occurred while aircraft were taking off or landing, more than 45% of the deadly injuries for aircraft pilots and flight engineers resulted from an in-flight crash.
Dangers of Aircraft Piloting & Flight Engineering
Flying aircraft is a complex job in which even just one mistake or oversight can have deadly consequences. From the pre-flight inspections to adverse weather, mechanical failures, and even aircraft passengers, several risks come with these professions. Notably, those working in the private sector, rather than for commercial airliners, have the greatest risk of suffering fatal injuries on the job.
3. Derrick Operators in Oil, Gas & Mining
14 times more dangerous than the average jobFatal injury rate (per 100,000 workers): 46Total fatalities: 12
The many risks of derrick machinery put these operators at major risk of fatal occupational injuries. In fact, while derrick operators are commonly killed in transportation incidents, several of these oil, gas, and mining workers also suffer fatal injuries in falling accidents, heavy machinery accidents, and equipment collapses.
Dangers of Operating Derricks
Derrick operators in the oil, gas, and mining industries are responsible for creating boreholes for oil and gas extraction wells. That means derrick operators face several job-related risks, like (but not limited to) explosions, chemical exposures, fires, equipment failures, and transportation accidents. With oil, gas, and mining professionals often working long hours and back-to-back shifts, worker fatigue is a major issue that can greatly increase the risk of fatal injuries for derrick operators.
12 times more dangerous than the average jobFatal injury rate (per 100,000 workers): 41Total fatalities: 111
About 84% of roofers are killed in falling accidents. That includes falling from elevated heights, like roofs and ladders, as well as slips, trips, and falls at the same level (no elevation). In addition to falls, exposures to harmful substances or environments (including extreme heat or cold), violence, and transportation accidents also cause far too many deadly work accidents for roofers each year.
Dangers of Roofing Work
Working on angled surfaces at high elevations is an inherent danger in the roofing industry. That alone would make the roofer occupation very risky, but it’s not the only danger roofers have to deal with. They also work in the elements, using industrial equipment and caustic chemicals, sometimes around power lines. That creates risks of burns, electrocutions, and other potentially deadly injuries.
5. Garbage Collectors
10 times more dangerous than the average jobFatal injury rate (per 100,000 workers): 34Total fatalities: 37
Garbage collectors are most often killed in fatal transportation accidents between garbage trucks and other vehicles on the roads. However, as OSHA reports, these deadly accidents also involve garbage collectors:
Being run over by their own garbage trucks
Falling off of garbage trucks
Getting pinned between the garbage truck and another object
Suffering fatal heat exhaustion
Dangers of Garbage Collection Work
Garbage trucks — including front loaders, side loaders, rear loaders, roll-offs, and recycling trucks — are big, heavy commercial vehicles with large moving parts. Not only do these vehicles routinely stop in traffic, but they also have several blind spots. The nature of this design creates several hazards for even the most experienced garbage collector. Beyond truck-related risks, garbage collectors work outdoors and in the streets, which can routinely expose them to the elements, passing traffic, and even animal attacks.
8.5 times more dangerous than the average jobFatal injury rate (per 100,000 workers): 29Total fatalities: 23
Falling accidents are the leading cause of death for ironworkers. Outside of falls, many ironworkers also suffer fatal injuries after exposure to a harmful substance or environment. Most often, that exposure involves toxic, volatile, or flammable substances or exposure to electricity.
Dangers of Being an Ironworker
Key to the construction and transportation industries (among others), ironworkers often work at high elevations, using bulky industrial equipment to weld, cut, and bend steel and iron. While these workers operate in risky and dynamic environments, they also use equipment that can severely burn them, especially without the proper safety precautions (including training and safety gear).
7. Delivery Drivers
8 times more dangerous than the average jobFatal injury rate (per 100,000 workers): 27Total fatalities: 966
Like others who drive for a living, delivery drivers have the greatest risk of suffering a deadly work accident while they’re on the roads. Beyond transportation incidents, violence is another major cause of fatal work injuries for delivery drivers — including mail, food, and paperwork delivery drivers.
Dangers of Delivery Driving Work
Whether they drive a car or a truck, delivery drivers face several risks on the road. Most often, however, these risks arise from negligent drivers, including impaired, fatigued, and distracted motorists. Additionally, delivery drivers have a high risk of being the targets of assaults, robberies, carjackings, and even murder (source: NBC).
8 times more dangerous than the average jobFatal injury rate (per 100,000 workers): 26Total fatalities: 238
Transportation incidents are also a leading cause of death for farmers. While this includes accidents involving farm vehicles, it also counts traffic collisions that occur while farmers are driving farm equipment, crops, or animals from one location to another. In addition to transportation incidents, farmers also suffer fatal work accidents due to chemical exposures, falling accidents, and accidents involving animals.
Dangers of Farming Work
Like many dangerous jobs on this list, farming involves working long hours outdoors, operating heavy machinery and industrial equipment, and dealing with routine exposure to harmful chemicals. That, combined with the risks of working with larger livestock, makes farming one of the top 10 most dangerous jobs in America.
9. Firefighting Supervisors
4 times more dangerous than the average jobFatal injury rate (per 100,000 workers): 20Total fatalities: 14
Traffic accidents, fires, and explosions are the leading causes of death for firefighting supervisors. These workers also suffer fatal injuries due to falls, exposures to harmful substances (including carbon monoxide), and building collapses.
Dangers of Working as a Firefighting Supervisor
Training and supervising teams of firefighters, these supervisors are often at the forefront of controlling fires, maintaining firetrucks and equipment, and running general operations. That can result in deadly injuries in the face of a fire, and it can also mean fatal work accidents when things go wrong at the firehouse.
10. Power Linemen
4 times more dangerous than the average jobFatal injury rate (per 100,000 workers): 20Total fatalities: 29
Exposure to harmful substances or environments is the leading cause of work-related deaths for powerline workers. Most often, this means deadly electrocutions. However, it can also refer to exposure to harsh heat and extreme cold, given that power linemen work outdoors most of the time. In addition to these exposures, deadly falls and traffic crashes are also common causes of death among powerline workers.
Dangers of Working on Power Lines
Working on high-voltage power lines, at elevated heights with heavy equipment, power line workers have extremely risky jobs. In many cases, power line accidents involve accidental contact with the line (source: OSHA). That contact tends to occur when scaffolding, metal ladders, long-handled tools, and other equipment are used too close to power lines.
Most Dangerous & Deadly Jobs: Conclusion
No matter how risky a job may be, every worker has the right to work in a safe environment. That means employers are legally required to provide “working conditions that are free of known dangers” (source: OSHA). Whenever workers’ rights to a safe environment are compromised, deadly accidents can happen — and the law provides families who lost loved ones with options for getting justice.
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