Staying Safe in the Unsafe: The Most Dangerous Jobs in America

Workplace safety has come a long way over the years as a result of regulation and innovation. However, there are certain jobs so inherently dangerous that no amount of government regulation or technology could ever make them danger-free. Some occupations are simply dangerous. Read on to learn more about the most dangerous jobs as well as tips for staying safe even in the unsafest of workplaces.

The Costs of Workplace Fatalities and Injuries

In 2017 there were 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses and 5,147 deaths from work-related injuries. While these numbers show a decline since 2016, occupational injuries and fatalities result in costs to employees and employers. There is no doubt that an employee’s injury or death has a significant impact on their family and loved ones financially, personally, and emotionally.

Employers face direct and indirect costs as well. Direct costs of workplace injuries and deaths include workers’ compensation payments, medical bills, and legal fees. Estimates indicate that employers pay approximately $1 billion per week for direct workers’ compensation costs. Indirect costs include lost productivity, training replacement employees, investigations, corrective measures, and costs related to absenteeism or employee morale. Everyone loses when a worker is injured.  

Top 10 Most Dangerous Jobs

Occupations with the highest workplace fatality rates tend to involve one of three things: (1) employees working from dangerous heights where falls would be fatal, (2) employees having frequent contact with dangerous machinery, or (3) employees driving for substantial periods of time. In addition, drug overdose deaths at work have increased by at least 25 percent in each the last five years. Based on an analysis by 24/7 Wall St. and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most dangerous jobs are as follows:

1. Fishers and related fishing workers

Physically-demanding work combined with slippery decks, extreme weather conditions, and lack of access to medical care (when working in remote areas) makes it no surprise to many that working in the fishing industry is extremely dangerous. The majority of these fatalities are caused by drowning.

2. Logging workers

Many logging accidents occur when a worker is hit by an object like a falling log or is injured by machinery like a chainsaw. Logging is a physically demanding job that often takes place in remote areas where there may be limited access to medical care.

3. Aircraft pilots and flight engineers

Most injuries to these workers are transportation-related.

4. Roofers

In addition to obvious risks like falls, slips, or tripping from roofs, ladders, or scaffolds, roofers are exposed to extreme heat in warmer climates and in summer months leading to heat-related illnesses.

5. Refuse and recyclable material collectors

These workers spend most of their time in a vehicle so their injuries are most often transportation-related like auto accidents. They are also exposed to pollutants that may cause illness.

6. Structural iron and steel workers

Falls, slips, and trips are the most common causes of fatalities in this group since iron and steel workers are performing at significant heights to repair iron and steel on roads, buildings, and bridges.

7. Driver/sales workers and truck drivers

These workers spend most of their time driving; the most common cause of fatalities are transportation-related, including auto accidents. They also lift and move heavy objects.

8. Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers

Motorized vehicles are mostly to blame for fatal injuries to these workers. Tractors and tools often pose severe safety risks.

9. First-line supervisors of landscaping, lawn service, and groundskeeping workers

Ground maintenance can be dangerous because the workers are using powerful machinery like chainsaws and tractors, and working at elevated heights. Fatalities for these workers are most commonly caused by unintended contact with equipment.

10. Electrical power-line installers and repairers.

Working on high-voltage power lines at great heights is a dangerous combination. Exposure to live wires and falling are the most common hazards.

Other dangerous occupations that rounded out the list include:

11. Miscellaneous agricultural workers

12. First-line supervisors of construction trades and extraction workers

13. Helpers, construction trades

14. General maintenance and repair workers

15. Grounds maintenance workers

16. Construction laborers

17. First-line supervisors of mechanics, installers, and repairers

18. Police and sheriff’s patrol officers

19. Operating engineers and other construction equipment operators

20. Mining machine operators

21. Taxi drivers and chauffeurs

22. Athletes, coaches, umpires, and related workers

23. Painters, construction, and maintenance

24. Firefighters

25. Electricians

Safety First . . . That Should Be Your Motto

Each occupation comes with its own unique set of safety risks. To stay safe at work, consider the following tips.

  • Identify hazards specific to your job. You cannot reduce your risk of injury if you do not recognize the existing dangers. Identifying the hazards of your job can help you to take steps to either reduce your risk of injury or, at a minimum, raise your awareness and level of caution when exposed to a certain situation, environment, or piece of equipment.
  • Wear personal protective equipment (PPE). If your employer requires the use of PPE, follow the guidelines. It can be easy to overlook the need for PPE when you are in a rush or completing what you may consider to be a routine task, but these rules are in place for your safety and can greatly reduce your risk of injury. PPE may include hard hats, goggles, masks, gloves, and safety shoes.
  • Take regular breaks. Many work accidents happen when an employee is tired or not aware of their surroundings. Take regular breaks to help you regain focus.
  • Use proper lifting techniques. If you work in a job that requires picking up and carrying heavy loads, make sure to use safe lifting posture to avoid injury.
  • Safe use of tools and machinery. Always use tools and machinery according to their intended use and following all safety procedures. Shortcuts and using tools for unintended purposes increases the risk of injury.
  • Always have an emergency plan. Regardless of where you work, you should always have a plan in case of an emergency. Do you know where the nearest hospital or medical professional is located? If you are in a remote location, how will you communicate that you need medical assistance? Are there emergency shutoffs on the equipment you are working with? Where are the first aid supplies located? What procedures does your employer have in place for an emergency?
  • Report unsafe conditions. As an employee, you should always report unsafe working conditions. As an employer or manager, it is your responsibility to foster an environment where employees are comfortable voicing safety concerns.

Reach Out to an Experienced Workers’ Compensation Attorney in Virginia

While we have discussed the most dangerous jobs here, no occupation is immune from potential workplace injuries. At Renfro & Renfro, our Virginia workers’ compensation attorneys have experience handling both sides of workers’ compensation claims. Using this unique industry insight, our lawyers will work with you to evaluate your case and help you to obtain the best possible outcome. Contact Renfro & Renfro today for a free consultation.


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