The Most Dangerous Jobs in America

When I wrote about the falling rate of workplace deaths, one question people asked is whether this is all about the relative decline in manufacturing as a share of employment. I doubt that’s the case, as the BLS chartbook shows that the fatal injury rate for manufacturing—2.2 deaths per 100,000 workers—is below the American average.

The key takeaway from the data is that the bulk of sectors are safer-than-average and the number is skewed by a relatively small number of sectors that are much more dangerous than average. The leader is the “agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting” sector where I’m given to understand that fishing in particular is very hazardous. On the one hand, there are a lot of physical risks involved in fishing and on the other hand the nature of the workplace means that it’s difficult to get timely medical attention. In absolute terms, however, there simply aren’t that many people involved in logging and fishing in the United States. So the largest source of actual industries comes from the transportation and warehousing sector. People don’t like to think about this very much, but driving around is probably the most dangerous thing normal people do and truck drivers and others who drive professionally are living dangerous to an extent than few appreciate. Between 2006 and 2011 there was a large decline in the population-wide occupational fatality rate which probably has a lot to do with the falling number of people working in the construction industry, which is considerably riskier than the average sector.

All in all, though, driving constitutes far and away the biggest source of occupational fatality risk. In 2011, 30 percent of on-the-job deaths were either “roadway incidents” or “pedestrian vehicular incidents”—i.e. cars and trucks slamming into each other or into pedestrians.