The American workplace has never been safer. In the 1970s, around 14,000 workers were killed on the job each year. In 2015, that figure stood at 4,836, a dramatic decrease despite a labor force that has grown from 100 million in 1978 to 160 million now. Still, fatalities happen, as do non-fatal injuries, which have been trending down for decades as well. Yet many people would be surprised by which occupations are the deadliest, with admittedly dangerous professions such as law enforcement and firefighting ranking far below other jobs in death rates. Here’s a look at the five deadliest jobs in the U.S. in 2015, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics research and other sources.
5. Garbage Collectors
This work just looks dangerous. These workers hang off the back of trucks, jump off in heavy traffic, operate heavy machinery, etc. According to the BLS, 33 “refuse and recyclable material collectors” were killed on the job in 2015. That’s a fatality rate of 39 deaths per 100,000 full-time workers. To put that figure in perspective, 135 police officers were killed in the line of duty in 2016. With roughly 1.1 million law enforcement officers nationwide, that’s a fatality rate of about 12 per 100,000.
Yet most people would not consider refuse collection three times more dangerous than law enforcement. It’s a matter of perception. Deaths of law enforcement officers always make the news. Ditto the deaths of members of certain other occupations, including firefighters.
They work at great heights, often carrying heavy loads around. Seventy-five roofers died at work in 2015 (39.7 deaths per 100,000 workers). Roofers are no more prone to fall than, say, a grocery store clerk slipping on spilled milk, but when they fall, the results are more likely to be tragic. And it doesn’t take a fall from great heights to kill; in fatalities where the height of the fall was determined, roughly half of fatal falls happened at a height of 15 feet or lower.
3. Aircraft Pilots and Flight Engineers
This one is a surprise, given airplane crashes seem like a relatively rare occurrence. And the crash of large passenger planes in the U.S. is exceedingly rare. But 57 pilots and flight engineers lost their lives in 2015 (40.4 deaths per 100,000 workers). More recently, four people were killed in September when their medical center life flight crashed In North Carolina.
2. Commercial Fishermen
For anyone who has seen the Discovery Channel reality show Deadliest Catch, this seems like a no-brainer. Commercial fishermen and related workers suffered 23 fatalities in 2015. That’s a rate of 54.8 per 100,000 workers.
Even with extreme safety measures, plenty can go wrong cutting down trees that weigh many tons and soar 100 or 200 feet into the air. Loggers registered a fatality rate of 133 per 100,000 workers in 2015, more than 2 ½ times the rate of the next deadliest occupation, commercial fishing.
One More: U.S. Military
In times of peace, being a member of the U.S. armed forces is a relatively safe job. In times of war, however, this would rate as one of the deadliest jobs. Crunching some numbers from various sources, an average of 947 service personnel were killed in Iraq or Afghanistan during the height of fighting in those two countries between 2003-2007. There were around 1.4 million active military personnel in those years. That’s a fatality rate of about 67 per 100,000 soldiers, which would rate second on this list.