America's Most Dangerous Jobs

Forbes

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Commercial fishing proved to
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The good news: Fewer people are dying on the job in the United States.

Last year work-related fatalities dipped 6%, to 5,488 (or 3.7 per 100,000 workers), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' National Census of Fatal Occupation Injuries report. That's the lowest fatality rate since the government started keeping track of those stats in 1992.

The bad news: Workplace safety experts say the decline in fatalities was due in part to lower employment nationwide, particularly in the construction and manufacturing industries. (Construction-related deaths, still the highest among any profession on an absolute basis, dropped to 1,178 from 1,239.) Improved safety standards have helped stanch the bleeding, too, they say.

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Badge-wielding types took a serious hit. Of all occupations, protective-service occupations suffered the greatest relative increase in workplace fatalities in 2007, jumping 20% to 314. Nearly one-half of those were police officers; indeed, enough men in blue perished in the line of fire to earn a spot on the list of America's 10 most dangerous jobs.

In 2007, 143 sheriffs and patrol officers died on the job--a rate of 21.4 per 100,000 workers--making police work the 10th most dangerous job in America. "Things have gotten more violent," admits Rich Roberts, public information officer from the International Union of Police Association, a Sarasota, Fla.-based union, "but fortunately we're better protected to a degree."

Topping the most-dangerous list: fishers and their staff. Thirty-eight fishermen--112 out of 100,000--died on the job last year, mainly off the frigid coasts of Alaska and Maine. There's a reason that Discovery show is called "Deadliest Catch."

Larry Simns--co-founder of Commercial Fishermen of America, a San Francisco-based nonprofit representing U.S. commercial fishermen--knows the pain. Last year Simms' friend Captain Philip Ruhle Jr. went down with his 80-foot squid ship in a storm roughly 40 miles off the coast of New Jersey.

"They all know the risks," says Simms. "There's a chance of getting killed, but you don't put a lot of emphasis on that. You're just extra cautious because you know you can't just get off the boat and walk home if something goes wrong."

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Next on the list is logging, which yielded 87 deaths per 100,000 employees. In this profession, many workers perform their jobs 100 feet in the air. Other deadly obstacles include high winds, falling branches, hidden roots and power saws.

Rounding out the top five are aircraft pilots and flight engineers (in third, with 67 deaths per 100,000); iron and steel workers (fourth, at 45); and farmers and ranchers (fifth, 38).

Not surprisingly, far more men than women die on the job. Of the 5,488 who died at work, 5,071 were male and 417 were female. For men, the deadliest occupations involve transportation and material-moving (pilots, bus drivers, crane operators and sailors), while administrative-support duties (couriers and stockers) claimed the most working women.

Will the death toll keep shrinking? Some experts think so as more employers enforce and emphasize safety to avoid harsh penalties, lawsuits and productivity losses. "We like to think that it's altruism and in some cases it is," said Frank Kenna III, president of The Marlin Company, a safety-consulting firm in Wallingford, Conn. "But most [employers] do it for economic reasons."

Top 5 Most Dangerous Jobs in the U.S.

1. Fishers and Related Workers
112 deaths per 100,000 workers2. Loggers
87 deaths per 100,000 workers3. Aircraft Pilots and Flight Engineers
67 deaths per 100,000 workers4. Iron and Steel Workers
45 deaths per 100,000 workers5. Farmers and Ranchers
38 deaths per 100,000 workers

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