In harm’s way: America’s 10 deadliest jobs

Most of us worry about job security at one time or another, but job safety is also a concern for some.

Every American worker devotes hours of their lives to their job, but only some of them put their lives on the line each day. Whether by exposing workers to a variety of life-threatening situations, environments, or substances, certain occupations undeniably pose a greater threat than others. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest data, the nation’s workforce saw 5,147 fatal injuries occur “on the job,” amounting to a rate of 3.5 deaths per 100,000 full-time workers. Staggeringly, nearly a third of these fatal injuries can be attributed to only 10 out of all 867 occupations in the U.S. 

The relative dangers of a job may not come as a surprise for the men and women who put themselves in harm’s way for their well-earned wages. That said, do those wages reflect the increased risk involved?

The data scientists at Insurify, an auto insurance quotes comparison site, investigated the question. Here are the top 10 most dangerous jobs and how they measure up to typical salaries in the U.S. based on education level.

Insights 

  • Minimal educational requirements. While most of these jobs still involve some sort of on-the-job training or certification process, nine out of 10 on the list do not require a bachelor’s degree. Those without a secondary education—and who are comfortable with the possible dangers ahead—can potentially find work in these fields.
  • What’s the payoff? According to the latest employment numbers, the most dangerous jobs that require a high school diploma or equivalent pay $51,970 a year, on average. That’s 40 percent higher than the median salary for workers with the same level of education ($37,024). Similarly, the most dangerous jobs with no formal educational requirements pay workers $41,593 per year on average, or 54 percent higher than the national median income for workers at this education level ($27,040). In this sense, perhaps it does pay to be put in potential harm’s way.

 

Methodology 

Insurify’s data scientists compiled data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on fatal injury rates, the number of fatal injuries, and median salaries per occupation, according to the latest numbers. They determined the likelihood of experiencing a fatal injury on the job, indexed against the national average (3.5 fatal injuries per 100,000 full-time workers). By comparing the median salary of each job to the national median salary of workers with equivalent educational credentials, Insurify’s data scientists sought to discover just how much more (or less) these workers are compensated. Information on educational requirements was taken from the BLS.

 

10. Electrical powerline installers and repairers 

  • Fatal injury rate: 18.7 per 100k
  • Fatal injuries per year: 26
  • Most common cause of fatal injury: Exposure to harmful substances
  • Median annual salary: $70,910
  • 91% higher than the median salary in the U.S. with equivalent education
  • Educational requirements: High school diploma or equivalent
  • Five times more likely to have a fatal injury than the average worker

A job that involves working at immense heights in close proximity to high voltage might be an obvious candidate for America’s most dangerous occupation, with risks of falling or electrocution relatively high. In fact, this is the only job on our list that attributes its high fatal injury rate to exposure to harmful substances—here, referring to high-powered electric fields. Luckily, annual wages pay the best on this list, at almost twice the median salary of workers in the U.S. at the same education level.

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

  • Fatal injury rate: 21 per 100k
  • Fatal injuries per year: 53
  • Most common cause of fatal injury: Transportation incidents
  • Median annual salary: $47,030
  • 74% higher than the median salary in the U.S. with equivalent education
  • Educational requirements: No formal educational credential, but some employers may require formal education or certification in particular areas of landscaping
  • Six times more likely to have a fatal injury than the average worker

While these supervisors are paid almost twice the median salary of full-time workers in the U.S. without formal educational credentials, they are six times more likely to be fatally injured on the job. Surprisingly, most fatal injuries on the job occur during transportation to and from various locations, rather than during the landscaping or groundskeeping work itself.

8. Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers

  • Fatal injury rate: 24 per 100k
  • Fatal injuries per year: 258
  • Most common cause of fatal injury: Transportation incidents
  • Median annual salary: $69,620
  • 88% higher than the median salary in the U.S. with equivalent education
  • Educational requirements: High school diploma or equivalent
  • Seven times more likely to have a fatal injury than the average worker

Admittedly it takes plenty of determination, patience, and long hours in all weather to work the land. But among the professions on this list that do not uniformly require a college degree, farming pays among the best on this list, at nearly $70,000 annually. For those with a passion for this type of work and an awareness of the potential hazards, farming can be both intrinsically and extrinsically rewarding.

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7. Driver/sales workers and truck drivers

  • Fatal injury rate: 26.8 per 100k
  • Fatal injuries per year: 987
  • Most common cause of fatal injury: Transportation incidents
  • Median annual salary: $24,700
  • 33% lower than the median salary in the U.S. with equivalent education
  • Educational requirements: High school diploma or equivalent
  • Eight times more likely to have a fatal injury than the average worker

This occupation might not be the most dangerous, but with a whopping 987 deaths, it claims the highest number of total annual fatal injuries. Paid only two-thirds as much as the average full-time worker with a high school diploma or equivalent, truck drivers’ median salaries are the lowest on our list. Are these workers provided with enough compensation for the danger they’re in? We’re not so sure.

6. Structural iron and steelworkers 

  • Fatal injury rate: 33.4 per 100k
  • Fatal injuries per year: 14
  • Most common cause of fatal injury: Falls, slips, and trips
  • Median annual salary: $53,970
  • 46% higher than the median salary in the U.S. with equivalent education
  • Educational requirements: High school diploma
  • Ten times more likely to have a fatal injury than the average worker

Structural and iron steelwork often involves working at dizzying heights while welding and bolting heavy girders, columns, and plates. Preventative measures are taken against accidents, and workers are usually harnessed to protect from falls. It’s no question that this type of work can be very hazardous and even fatal when the proper safety protocol is not followed/

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5. Refuse and recyclable material collectors

  • Fatal injury rate: 35 per 100k
  • Fatal injuries per year: 30
  • Most common cause of fatal injury: Transportation incidents
  • Median annual salary: $37,260
  • 38% higher than the median salary in the U.S. with equivalent education
  • Educational requirements: No formal educational credential
  • Ten times more likely to have a fatal injury than the average worker

Refuse and recyclable material collection is more hazardous than half the jobs on this list, having earned a spot in the top five most dangerous jobs this year. The workers collecting our refuse in the wee hours each week commit to more dangerous work than one might suspect: operating or working in close proximity to heavy transportation vehicles puts trash collectors at risk of transportation incidents. 

4. Roofers

  • Fatal injury rate: 45.2 per 100k
  • Fatal injuries per year: 91
  • Most common cause of fatal injury: Falls, slips, or trips
  • Median annual salary: $39,970
  • 48% higher than the median salary in the U.S. with equivalent education
  • Educational requirements: No formal educational credential
  • Thirteen times more likely to have a fatal injury than the average worker

Those who work extensively on home building and repair inherently put themselves at risk, especially those who work at great heights. Perhaps unsurprisingly, falls, slips and trips constitute the most common types of fatal injuries for this occupation.

3. Aircraft pilots and flight engineers

  • Fatal injury rate: 48.6 per 100k
  • Fatal injuries per year: 59
  • Most common cause of fatal injury: Transportation incidents
  • Median annual salary: $137,330
  • 125% higher than the median salary in the U.S. with equivalent education
  • Educational requirements: High school diploma or equivalent (commercial pilots); bachelor’s degree (airline pilots); commercial pilot’s license and Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
  • Fourteen times more likely to have a fatal injury than the average worker

Paradoxically, whereas flying is the safest mode of travel by absolute numbers, aircraft pilots and flight engineers have the third most dangerous job in America. Salaries for this occupation are by far the highest on this list, but keep in mind that these navigators of the sky must complete extensive education and training to gain employment.

2. Logging workers

  • Fatal injury rate: 84.3 per 100k
  • Fatal injuries per year: 55
  • Most common cause of fatal injury: Contact with objects and equivalent 
  • Median annual salary: $40,650
  • 10% higher than the median salary in the U.S. with equivalent education
  • Educational requirements: High school diploma or equivalent
  • Twenty-four times more likely to have a fatal injury than the average worker

Logging comes in as the runner-up for America’s most dangerous occupation with the second-highest fatal injury rate on this list. Physically demanding, logging involves using hazardous power tools and heavy equipment—which may prove fatal if the proper safety protocol is not followed.

1. Fishers and related fishing workers

  • Fatal injury rate: 99.8 per 100k
  • Fatal injuries per year: 41
  • Most common cause of fatal injury: Transportation incidents
  • Median annual salary: $42,110
  • 56% higher than the median salary in the U.S. with equivalent education
  • Educational requirements: No formal educational credential
  • Twenty-nine times more likely to have a fatal injury than the average worker

Commercial fishing has long been considered hazardous, with heavy machinery and rough conditions on the open ocean. Fishing has become more competitive due to the depletion of marine fish stocks, and the resulting “race to fish” forces many to fish in particularly unsafe conditions. It may come as no surprise that fishing earns the top spot this year as America’s most dangerous occupation, with almost 100 deaths per 100k workers.

Insurify’s team of data scientists and content specialists presents Insurify Insights, a series of automotive, home, and health studies focusing on the topics that impact us all. Through expert analysis of over 1.9 million car insurance applications and an array of top data sources, the Insurify Insights team produces new data-driven articles, trend analyses, regional superlatives, and national rankings every week.