Overall, workplace fatalities edged down last year to 5,703 from 5,734 in 2005, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For many of us, the most dangerous part of the workday is the commute, but for many others, each workday is risky business.
The nation recently watched rescuers' efforts to reach six trapped workers in a Utah coal mine. In the same month, divers searched for bodies through debris and low visibility in the Mississippi River after a deadly bridge collapse in Minnesota. Then there are the hundreds of thousands of soldiers from all over the world in combat.
For many of us, the most dangerous part of the workday may be the commute, but for many others, each workday is a real risk. Fortunately, workplace fatalities overall edged down last year to 5,703 from an adjusted 5,734 in 2005, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) figures.
Mining does not statistically rank among the most dangerous occupations, and related accidents have generally dropped since passage of the Mining Safety & Health Act in 1977, which tightened safety standards. The rate of fatal injuries in the coal mining industry in 2006 was 49.5 per 100,000 workers, nearly 12 times the rate for all private industry, according to the BLS. This represents an 84 percent increase from the 2005 rate of 26.8 fatalities per 100,000 workers.
"Employees in coal mining are more likely to be killed or to incur a non-fatal injury or illness, and their injuries are more likely to be severe than workers in private industry as a whole," according to the BLS in August. Also in August, heavy flooding poured into two coal mines in eastern China, leaving 181 miners feared dead; earlier this month, 172 miners trapped in the flooded mine were pronounced dead as officials cited bad management as a main cause of the tragedy.
China's coal mines are the world's deadliest, with thousands of fatalities a year.
Every August, the BLS releases its report of fatalities in the work place -- and almost every year, the single deadliest job in the United States is commercial fishing. This year was no exception.
Based on the latest BLS data, and primary professional dangers noted by the BLS and Forbes, the following jobs have the highest fatality rates in the U.S.
1) Fishers and Fishing Workers
Deaths per 100,000 workers: 142
Total Deaths: 51
Dangers: Work in all kinds of weather, often hundreds of miles from shore with no help readily available; crew members risk falling on slippery decks, leading to serious injuries or falling overboard; potential hazards include malfunctioning fishing gear and becoming entangled in nets.
2) Pilots and Flight Engineers
Deaths per 100,000 workers: 88
Total Deaths: 101
Dangers: Risky conditions are most acute for test pilots, who check equipment for new, experimental planes, as well as crop dusters, who are exposed to toxins and sometimes lack a regular landing strip; helicopter pilots often engage in dangerous rescue.
Deaths per 100,000 workers: 82
Total Deaths: 64
Dangers: Loggers are susceptible to high winds, falling branches and hidden roots or vines that present great risks around chain saws and other heavy equipment.
4) Iron and Steel Workers
Deaths per 100,000 workers: 61
Total Deaths: 36
Dangers: Most work at considerable heights, with the greatest cause of injury or death coming from falls.
5) Refuse and Recyclable Material Collectors
Deaths per 100,000 workers: 42
Total Deaths: 38
Dangers: Some also work at great heights, occasionally in extreme weather; often, workers are exposed to fumes and hazardous materials that can impair their respiratory systems.
Rounding out the top 10 U.S. jobs with the highest fatality rates: farmers and ranchers (38 deaths for every 100,000 workers); electrical power line workers (35/100,000); roofers (34/100,000); drivers (truckers and salespeople) (27/100,000); and agricultural workers (22/100,000).
Of the 5,703 fatal work injuries last year, 5,202 occurred in private industry. Manufacturing fatalities were up 14 percent in 2006.
ResourcesBureau of Labor StatisticsAmerica's Most Dangerous Jobs
by Tom Van Riper
Forbes, Aug. 13, 2007
Mine Agency Set to Beef Up Rescue Teams
by Mike Gorrell
The Salt Lake Tribune, Sept. 09, 2007
Flooding In China Leaves 181 Miners Trapped
CityNews.ca, Aug. 18, 2007
China Pronounces 172 Miners Dead in Mining Disaster
by Agence France-Presse, Sept. 6, 2007
Image: Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch