If you watch all of the cop dramas on TV these days, you might get the impression that law enforcement officers get into gunfights all the time and face the prospect of death by homicide on a daily basis. In addition, the national narrative of policemen “putting their lives on the line every day” has been drilled into the consciousness of every American.
But this image doesn’t even begin to resemble reality for the average cop. In fact, only a small percentage of police officers ever fire their weapon outside of gun ranges in their entire career. And you’ve undoubtedly seen enough road-resting, paper-pushing, piehole-stuffing cops in your day.
Here’s the dirty little secret: being a police officer really isn’t as dangerous as they would like you to think. In fact, it’s not even close to the most dangerous job in the nation.
As proof of this, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has compiled a list of the deadliest jobs in the country. The index is measured by the number of on-the-job fatalities that occur each year per 100,000 workers. Only 104 police personnel were killed in the line of duty in 2012 (a drop of 20% from the year before), and since there are around a million or so federal, state, and local cops in the nation, the fatality rate is somewhere in the neighborhood of 10.4.
But if you want actual danger, then you should risk your life in one of these ten occupations that are deadlier than law enforcement according to BLS data for 2012 (the most recent year available).
10. Construction Workers
When you think about it, there are plenty of potential hazards lurking on any construction site. You could bleed to death after get sliced open by a saw, or literally be felled by a ton of bricks. That said, the most common types of construction accidents involve being run over by a vehicle, forklift, or other piece of equipment; or falling from a great height while working on a girder, some scaffolding, or even the roof of a building. And even though many of them undoubtedly wore their hard hats as per safety rules, 210 construction workers died on the job in 2012, marking a 5% increase from the previous year and resulting in a fatality rate of 17.4.
9. Farmers, Ranchers, Other Agricultural Canagers
This may not have been the case decades ago when much of the farming was done by families. But today’s modern farms involve so much automation and heavy equipment that a human can suffer serious harm by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Harvesters, balers, fertilizers, planters, and other implements are common in today’s crop fields. And of course, there are the augers, tractors, plows, and backhoes that are needed from time to time. As in construction, a great many of the fatal accidents occur when someone is involved in a vehicle accident. Add to the fact that quite a few farms are miles away from medical facilities, and you get a fatality rate of 21.3.
8. Truck Drivers and Other Driving Salespersons
Among all of the BLS subgroups of the transportation caregory, this one saw the most fatalities in 2012, as 741 people died while working at this job. The possible hazards for truckers are fairly obvious; heavy traffic, inclement weather, driver fatigue, and unexpected road debris or maneuvers by passenger vehicles can all lead to truck accidents, which often leads to trucker deaths. But this category also includes salespeople who work out of their vehicles (like food trucks or ice cream trucks, for instance). And since vehicle accidents are a major cause of premature death in America, it’s no surprise that the fatality rate for people in this occupation is among the highest at 22.1.
7. Electrical Power Line Installers/Repairers
Given the massive amounts of electricity that sit inches away from these workers on a daily basis, you may be surprised that the fatality rate of 23.0 in this category isn’t higher than it is. The fact that only 26 electrical power line repairmen/installers died at work in 2012 is really a testament to the major emphasis on safety that is practiced in this field. Still, while electric shocks involving hundreds of thousands of volts can easily cause death, another danger faced by these men and women is the prospect of falling 20 to 40 feet to the ground. Which may explain this frequently-cited power line electrician adage: “If the shock doesn’t kill you, the fall probably will.”
6. Garbage/Recycling Collectors
Actually, this category had the same number of fatalities as power line electrical workers in 2012; but because there are roughly 150,000 fewer of them in the U.S., garbagemen and recycled material collectors had a higher fatality rate of 27.1. To be sure, the standard auto accident-related dangers faced in the aforementioned categories are present among people working in this occupation as well. But there are two additional hazards which must be navigated on a daily basis: the powerful crushing machinery with which most refuse collection trucks are equipped, and the necessity of having to stand on the rear bumper of a moving vehicle for much of the workday.
5. Structural Steel and Iron Workers
The steel industry garnered a reputation for dangerous work in the first half of the 20th century. Even though numerous safety advancements have been made, it still remains one of the more deadly professions with a fatality rate of 37.0. One possible reason that this figure isn’t higher is because of the shrinkage of the American steel industry in recent decades. But even today, steel and iron workers must face extremely hot metal-melting machinery, sharp saws and other cutting tools, and heavy molding equipment. Those workers that set the finished product on tall buildings must also worry about falling to their death as well.
This may be a bit of a surprise given how common this occupation is across the United States. Nevertheless, the BLS reported a 17% surge in the number of work-related deaths among roofers in 2012 when compared to 2011, leading to a fatality rate of 40.5. Obviously, the constant danger of falling off a roof has a lot to do with the high fatality rate. But this risk is exacerbated by weather conditions like intense heat and sudden wind gusts, as well as complementary hazards like tool injuries and nearby power lines. All it takes is one moment to lose your balance, and you could be locked in the death talons of gravity.
3. Aircraft Pilots and Flight Engineers
Given how safe air travel has become is the 21st century – there hasn’t been a fatal crash of a passenger plane operated by an American carrier since 2009, and none by a major carrier since 2001 – you may not think that pilots and flight engineers would be on this list. But you should keep in mind that this category also encompasses smaller, private planes, commercial cargo jets, and helicopters. And since the raw number of pilots and flight engineers isn’t that large in the U.S., any fatal crash is going to skew the death rate a great deal. In 2012, the fatality rate was 53.4 for people in this occupation, as a total of 74 pilots or flight engineers lost their lives while at work.
2. Fishers and Related Fishing Jobs
If you’ve watched “The Deadliest Catch” on The Discovery Channel, you’ve seen first hand how hazardous this profession can be. Not only can extreme weather descend upon a vessel at sea very quickly, but the fish-or-don’t-get-paid nature of the business spurs people in this industry to push the boundaries of safety. Add to that the real possibility of getting clocked by a crane hook, falling into a heavy piece of equipment, or getting thrust overboard into the deep, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Even though fatalities in this category plunged by 24% year-over-year, the 2012 fatality rate for fishermen and related workers was still a whopping 117.0.
Ready for this? The fatality rate for logging workers was a mind-boggling 127.8 in 2012. Why so high? You’ve got the inaccessibility to medical care like you do with farming. You’ve got powerful saws and other heavy equipment which rivals that seen in construction. You have the ever-present risk of vehicle accidents which are exacerbated by shifting log loads and uneven terrain. Oh, and you have to cut down tall, massive trees on a daily basis – and they don’t always fall the way you want them to. The BLS says that fatalities in this industry have not gone down in the last three years – which makes logging the most dangerous job in America.
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