Some jobs leap to mind as dangerous, including police officer, firefighter, or in current times, front-line healthcare worker. They certainly all present their dangers to those who practice such professions. But none of them qualified for this list, comprised from statistics collected from 2019 and 2018. Some of them are surprising, while others have long been considered dangerous, at least by those who do not work in the field. Photos of ironworkers high above the Earth building the skyscrapers of New York during the Depression are frightening to those with a healthy respect for heights. Other photos exist of the same workers sitting nonchalantly on a girder dozens of stories high, eating their lunch, without a safety line to be seen.
Railroads were once among the most dangerous areas to work in the world, though improvements in equipment and safety regulations changed that in the mid-to-late 20th century. Likewise, most factory jobs are much safer than they once were, with some of the most dangerous jobs replaced by automation. Knowledge of workplace safety has improved and procedures to ensure safe working conditions have reduced the risk of death on the job due to accidents. But there are still dangers inherent in the workplace, and statistically some jobs are much more dangerous than others. Here are the 10 most dangerous jobs in the world.
10. Bull Riders
Bull riding is one of the most popular rodeo events, as well as the most dangerous. In the United States the job is often touted as “the most dangerous eight seconds in sports.” The phrase comes from the requirement that the rider remain atop the bull, with only one hand gripping the rope tied behind the bull’s forelegs, for that period. If the free hand makes contact with the animal the rider receives no score, even if the ride lasted the full eight seconds (in the United States). Bull riding is popular in the US, Canada, Australia, across South America, in the Philippines and Japan, and in much of Western Europe.
Top bull riders make hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, competing in sanctioned events around the world, but at significant risk of injury of various degrees of seriousness. Riders are killed every year, sometimes from being stomped, kicked, or gored, and even a successful ride can cause injuries to the brain through concussion. It is the most dangerous of all rodeo sports, and one of the most dangerous of all sports, though fatalities in the United States are less frequent than in other jurisdictions. Australia showed a steady increase in annual injuries in a study which covered six consecutive seasons during the last decade, even as the sport gained popularity.
9. Aircraft Pilots and Flight Engineers
Commercial aviation is one of the safest ways to travel, according to statistics measuring passenger injury and fatalities. The industry frequently boasts of its safety record, with good reason. After all, touting passenger comfort and the entire airport experience nowadays isn’t too convincing to prospective customers. Still, passengers, pilots and flight engineers on commercial carriers are among the safest within the aviation industry. But pilots of air taxis, small air shuttles, and private aviators, are among the most dangerous professions.
In statistics compiled by the US Bureau of Labor in 2019, pilots and flight engineers had a fatal injury rate while on the job which exceeded 10 times the rate for all workers (3.5 deaths per 100,000 workers). In all, 75 aircraft pilots or navigators were killed during the preceding year, making it one of the most dangerous jobs for those involved. Small plane accidents included stunt pilots and air show incidents which led to fatalities among participating pilots. The rate of fatal accidents among small aircraft is closer to that of traffic accidents than to commercial aviation.
8. Structural Iron and Steel Workers
The photos of iron and steel workers erecting the Empire State Building in New York, or the Golden Gate Bridge in California, are unnerving to those who have a fear of heights. Workers ran the lengths of beams, wearing coveralls, some in hard hats and some not, eschewing safety lines and nets. Workplace safety rules changed all that, and a considerable number of safety appliances and procedures came into use, but the profession remains a highly dangerous one across the world. In the United States it was the sixth most dangerous in 2018, with just over 25 deaths per 100,000.
The danger comes from collapses of partially completed construction (or deconstruction), electrical lines and cables, and swinging steel beams and other components. But it is height which presents the greatest danger, with most fatalities occurring as a result of falls. Other injuries include burns from hot metals, broken bones, and muscle injuries. During the construction of the Empire State Building in New York, five fatalities occurred among the over 3,400 workers involved in the project. In the 1970s, construction of the World Trade Center led to 60 deaths among the workers. New York’s One World Trade Center saw only two reported fatalities during construction, but dozens of accidents in which workers were permanently disabled.
7. Deep-sea Commercial Fishers
It’s probably unsurprising the leading cause of death among commercial fishers is drowning, but there are numerous other dangers lurking within the profession. At sea, without medical assistance or emergency care much beyond a medical kit, injuries are common and often poorly treated. Slips and falls, caused by the motion of the vessel, often lead to serious injury, including broken bones, crushed fingers, and sprains.
Tangled lines trip busy crewmen leading to falls, items swinging overhead make contact with human skulls, and there is the constant threat of cuts. Fishing may be a relaxing pastime for those anglers who enjoy it on summer weekends, but it is a dangerous means of employment on the open sea, as it always has been. The number of work-related fatalities among commercial fishers is well over ten times the rate for all professions.
The dangers posed to veterinarians as they go about their work include, obviously, animal bites and mauling. While the vet who cares for the family cat and dog might seem to have a safe job, the fact is many veterinarians, especially those working in rural areas and those with zoos are in a dangerous profession. The danger isn’t solely from the animals under their care either, at least according to a study in Australia completed in 2018. There it was determined that veterinarians are often a threat to themselves.
The Australian study found the mental stress among veterinarians led to their being four times more likely to attempt or commit suicide. The sources of the mental stress are many and the relationship between depression and the euthanasia performed by vets was considered as being a contributing factor in the increased suicide rate. The Australian study determined that vets experienced negative emotions at work at a rate which exceeded the general population, and suffered from high anxiety, depression, and chronic levels of stress. They also suffered from a sense of being trapped within a profession by their training, which rendered them unable to consider career alternatives.
The leading cause of on-the-job deaths among roofers is falling from roofs, which occur frequently enough to make it one of the world’s most dangerous professions. Falls from roofs are frequently used as a comedic device in films and television situation-comedies, but in the real world there is little funny about them. Other injuries to roofers depend on the type of roof under installation, removal, or maintenance. Tarred roofs present burn hazards, metal roofs can cause cuts, as well as contact burns in bright sun.
Injuries from the tools of the trade are common, including accidents with nail guns and other power tools. Items dropped from roofs can cause injuries to others working below them, and there is also the risk of injury carrying heavy objects up and down ladders, as well as the risk of falling from the ladders themselves. Roofers suffer fatal injuries at a rate which exceeds the average of all workers by more than a dozen times. Many of the injuries and deaths are attributed to poor communication and inadequate use of safety devices, such as hardhats and safety lines.
4. Oilfield Workers
Oilfield workers ashore, and on off-shore oil platforms around the world, operate in professions among the most dangerous in the world. In July, 1988, the oil platform Piper Alpha, operated by Occidental Petroleum Caledonia Ltd, suffered an explosion and fire in which 167 perished. Only 61 workers survived the disaster. In April 2010, an explosion on the offshore platform Deepwater Horizon led to 11 deaths, dozens of injuries, a fire which proved impossible to extinguish, and the largest oil spill at sea in history. Clearly working on off-shore oil platforms presents dangers to the workers.
Oil workers ashore face perils on the job from numerous sources, including the heights at which some work, heavy equipment and tools, and inadequate supervision of on-the-job training. They are also endangered from physical fatigue, leading to exhaustion. Motor vehicle accidents involving oilfield workers occur in disproportionately high numbers, with exhaustion from work and the need to drive great distances to and from worksites cited as contributory factors.
3. Underwater Welders
Welding underwater is a highly specialized task, and a relatively few workers perform the job, compared to other professions. Their services are required in the shipbuilding and repair industries; constructing and maintaining underwater pipelines, and conduits for communication cables. They also work in dams, spillways, and other underwater infrastructure. The nature of their work exposes them to the risk of injury from explosions, collapse of structures, and of course, drowning.
The profession, though a small one, is markedly dangerous. It is too small a profession in terms of numbers of workers for it to be tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but the Centers for Disease Control reported the death rate for underwater welders exceeded the national average of deaths on the job by more than 40 times in the United States alone. Around the world the need for underwater welders grew since the Second World War, and they are in increasing demand in the 21st century, as more underwater resources are exploited.
2. Trash and Recycling Collectors
Workers who collect trash in the United States are part of a profession which is the fifth most dangerous in the country. Around the world the danger is even greater, in terms of the injuries and deaths sustained. Falling from collection trucks is one danger faced by trash collectors. Another, far more frequent, is being struck by other vehicles. They face danger from materials collected as well, including broken glass, sharp edges on some refuse, discarded toxic waste and materials, (such as hypodermic needles) and more.
The risks involved aren’t only in the collection phase of trash and waste disposal, which is pretty much the only part of the process viewed by the general public. Accidents with sorting and crushing machinery, at incinerators, and in landfills in which waste is moved using heavy equipment are common. The dangerous nature of the job is reflected by the high rate of deaths among trash collectors and handlers around the world. Incidentally, some waste collection workers in the United States make up to $100,000 per year, a figure certain to raise some eyebrows from those who take the job for granted.
1. Lumberjacks and Loggers
Since the days when axes and two-man saws provided the only means of felling trees, the act of doing so has been dangerous. Somewhat perversely, advanced technology increased the risks. Logging and forestry management through harvesting trees is the most dangerous job category in the world. In the United States in 2018, fatal accidents involving lumberjacks and loggers exceeded an average of 135 per 100,000 workers. As noted, across all jobs as listed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average was 3.5 per 100,000.
One danger comes from being suspended from the tree being cut, taking it down in sections, with the worker exposed to the whipping of the tree as the upper section separates and falls. Accidents abound on the ground below, both from felling trees and from trimming them on the ground. Heavy machinery to move the great sticks offer further dangers to the personnel involved. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of the injuries (and deaths) involving lumberjacks and loggers are due to the misuse or inadequate maintenance of machinery, making the profession a more dangerous one through the insertion of human error.