10 of the most dangerous jobs in America

American Occupational Safety presents a rundown of jobs with the highest workplace fatalities in the country

10 of the most dangerous jobs in America

Some jobs are just more dangerous than others – this has been the consistent finding of the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) since it started its annual occupational injury census in 2003.

In December 2020, the BLS released its 2019 research results on the most hazardous jobs in the country based on fatality rates. This index refers to the number of workplace deaths per 100,000 full-time workers in the same profession or industry.

Let’s have a closer look at jobs with the highest fatality rates in America and the leading causes of workplace injuries.

Fatal hazards in the workplace

On average, 3.5 people die on the job for every 100,000 workers from a total of 263 professions included in the study.

There had been 5,333 fatal injuries – and by BLS’s estimates, a worker died every 99 minutes while on duty in 2019. The BLS report highlighted three major hazards that cause the majority of these incidents.

Transportation accidents remain the leading cause of fatal injuries across all industries. These totaled 2,122 deaths or almost 40% of all cases.

Next are incidents caused by falls, slips, and trips, which account for 880 or 17% of work-related fatalities. Lastly, we have 14% of deaths (732) caused by accidental contact with objects or machinery.

Most dangerous jobs according to fatality rates

Certain industries have very steep annual fatalities that are many times higher than the national average. Here are the top 10 in BLS’s watch list and their respective fatality rates.

1. Fishing and hunting workers

145 fatal work injuries per 100,000 full-time workers

The fatality rate among fishing workers is more than 40 times the average. It remains among the top three most dangerous jobs for two years since 2018.

Drowning is the most frequent cause of occupational death in this industry.

Fishing workers stay on bodies of water for long periods as they gather fish and other aquatic animals. As such, they can be exposed to harsh weather conditions like storms and strong winds.

Low visibility due to fog can also increase the risks of transport accidents at sea.

2. Logging workers

69 fatal work injuries per 100,00 full-time workers

Logging requires powerful cutting tools to fell trees and process wood. As such, workers are exposed on a daily basis to dangerous machinery and heavy logs that they harvest from forests.

Sixty-six loggers die every year since 2006, and around 80% of deaths are due to contact with logging equipment and falling bodies of large trees.

In addition to the high fatality rate, there were more than 1,000 non-lethal accidents in 2019 that involved getting hit by falling objects and machinery-related mishaps.

3. Aircraft pilots and flight engineers

62 fatal work injuries per 100,00 full-time workers

The majority of pilot fatalities are caused by plane crashes. These accidents usually involve privately owned planes.

Pilots and aviation engineers are responsible for transporting people and cargo while ensuring that the aircraft is in safe operating conditions. They also track the vehicle’s systems during flight and communicate with air traffic control.

According to the National Law Review, mechanical issues or poor repairs cause more than 20% of aviation accidents. Human error and poor weather are also among the most reported causes.

4. Roofers

54 fatal work injuries per 100,00 full-time workers

Fatalities in the roofing industry increased by 15%, from 96 cases in 2018 to 111 in 2019. While the reported count is significant and alarming, the actual number might actually be higher.

“[The data] causes us to inquire what are the total deaths experienced in all roofing occupations – that is, all roofing contractors’ employees,” said Thomas Shanahan, vice president of enterprise risk management at the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA).

Shanahan noted that the BLS report did not contain information about fatalities under the industry classification code for roofing businesses and contractors.

Roofers install and repair roofs of homes and commercial buildings. Given the nature of their work, the leading causes of deaths are falls, slips, and trips.

5. Construction trade helpers

40 fatal work injuries per 100,00 full-time workers

Construction worker deaths increased by 5% in 2019 and represented 22% of all private industry worker fatalities in the same year.

Similar to roofers, the most common cause of death for trade helpers are tripping and falling from height at construction sites.

The report also indicated that many cases were transport-related. Workers tend to get hit by moving vehicles on-site or by moving construction equipment and materials.

6. Refuse and recyclable material collectors

35 fatal work injuries per 100,00 full-time workers

Sanitation workers and garbage collectors regularly drive trucks around neighborhoods to empty dumpsters and garbage bins. The same trucks are also the leading cause of death among them.

In the majority of fatalities in 2019, the victims died of getting struck by a garbage truck or other moving vehicles.

“It’s pretty dangerous to be a garbage man,” said the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), after noting that sanitation workers get exposed to potentially dangerous materials.

SWANA added that wearing protective equipment and highly visible outerwear can significantly reduce accidents while on the job.

7. Sales transport and truck drivers

27 fatal work injuries per 100,00 full-time workers

Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death among truck drivers. Road conditions due to inclement weather also increase the risks of vehicular accidents.

This sector incurred a total of 1,005 fatal injuries, the highest since the survey series began in 2003. These also account for nearly 20% of all work-related deaths in 2019.

Truck drivers did not lead the list in terms of fatality rate per 100,000 workers, but only because there are more workers in this category than other professions included in the study.

8. Structural iron and steel workers

26 fatal work injuries per 100,00 full-time workers

Structural ironworkers install support beams for roads, bridges, and buildings. Besides being physically taxing, working in this industry requires you to climb tall structures and operate potentially dangerous equipment.

Falling or tripping could indeed be fatal in such working conditions. The BLS reported two categories of falling – namely, falling to the same level or to a lower level. Steelworker accidents mostly belong to the latter.

Steelworkers also coordinate with crane operators for unloading iron, steel, and other construction materials. They are often put in charge of cutting, bending, and welding steel structures and building reinforcements.

9. Farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers

23 fatal work injuries per 100,00 full-time workers

This is a broad category that includes workers who produce crops, dairy products, and animal meat for food.

Agricultural managers and helpers who purchase supplies for livestock, transport and sell goods, and maintain farming equipment belong in this group.

With transport being an essential component of this industry, more than 50% of agricultural fatalities resulted from vehicular crashes – including tractor accidents.

Historical data indicates that tractor drivers older than 65 are about three times as likely to die in a tractor accident as operators in other age groups.

10. Ground maintenance workers

20 fatal work injuries per 100,00 full-time workers

These workers are responsible for cleaning and maintaining the grounds of businesses, residences, and parks. Besides taking care of lawns and watering plants, they also use bladed tools to trim bushes and tree branches.

However, most fatalities in 2019 were still caused by traffic crashes instead of equipment-related accidents. These happened when the maintenance workers were in transit to and from job sites.

There were also a few fatalities due to getting struck by falling objects and electrocutions.