Just about every job entails some measure of stress, and most office jobs require being sedentary at a desk all day. Both of these common factors in the workplace can have negative impacts on health. Even just leaving the house to go to work and going about the workday brings with it risks to health and safety.
But that’s nothing compared to the working conditions some endure. At some perilous and unhealthy jobs, workers take their lives into their hands every day. Unfortunately, even more common are jobs that take a gradual toll on the health of the worker.
Common occupational health hazards include prolonged exposure to harmful substances and vapors, structural failures, accidents, and neglecting to follow safety procedures. As you’ll see in the list of least healthy occupations that follows, heavy lifting does a lot of damage in the workplace, causing musculoskeletal injuries and other aches and sprains. Chemical exposure can lead to liver damage, cancer, and reproductive problems.
To determine the following most "unhealthy" occupations, the online employment resource SimplyHired.com consulted the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ report on injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. These seven jobs, arranged from the jobs where workers missed the least workdays to the one where they missed the most days, are likely to be hazardous to your health.
By Colleen Kane
Posted August 18, 2011
Average salary: $14,000 (office cleaner), $18,000 (janitor)
Occupational hazards: respiratory and skin diseases, exposure to infectious diseases via discarded contaminated items, musculoskeletal disorders
There’s not a lot of variety in the tasks of cleaners and janitors, and this repetition can strain muscles. Worse, much of the work requires repeated exposure to the chemicals of cleaning solvents, as well as latex, which can also be problematic for some.
Still, there are 7,500 janitor job listings on SimplyHired.com, reflecting an increase of 250% since November 2009 and some 10,300 cleaner job listings show a 103% increase in that same time period.
Average salary: $53,000 (interstate long-haul drivers)
Occupational hazards: auto accidents, injuries resulting from loading and unloading cargo, transporting hazardous materials, disease from exposure to air pollutants, backaches and other muscular problems
One report on the health of professional drivers gives a grim assessment regarding air quality. “Drivers are exposed to significant amounts of health damaging air pollutants in their work. Diesel fuels have carcinogenic properties, and exhaust emissions from the total vehicle fleet contain pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide, all of which can damage the respiratory system and are associated with asthma, bronchitis and a range of other health problems including headaches, sore eyes and ear problems. Levels of pollution are higher in the cab than at the curbside, giving workers a level of exposure to air pollutants that would not be tolerated in the workplace.”
Tractor-trailer truck driver jobs on SimplyHired.com have increased 231% since November 2009.
Average salary: $24,000
Occupational hazards: injuries from contact with equipment, objects, and work vehicles. Eyes and backs are especially prone to worksite injuries.
In the “dubious distinctions” department, construction beat all other occupations in injuries caused by contact with objects and equipment, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s worse than notoriously dangerous mining and frequently injurious manufacturing.
Construction job listings on SimplyHired.com have increased 27% since November 2009.
Average salary: $17,000 (freight laborer)
Occupational hazards: injuries to back and other body parts from lifting, workplace accidents such as dropping stock
This is another occupation requiring a lot of exertion, where employees working in warehouses and stockrooms and docks suffer from the effects of heavy lifting. There are presently 4,400 job listings for these occupations on SimplyHired.com.
Average salary: $19,000
Occupational hazards: low back pain, other work injuries in shoulders, arms, hands
Your local package delivery worker bears the double-whammy brunt of the taxing effect of lifting, as well as the back strains caused by driving. Nonetheless, with 58,500 job listings on SimplyHired.com, delivery truck jobs have increased by a whopping 847% since November 2009.
Average salary: $23,000 (aide) $36,000 (orderly) $37,000 (attendant)
Occupational hazards: back injuries
According to one study of workers' compensation data, nurses' aides ranked fifth among all occupations in filing for work-related back injury. Why do nurses’ aides have three times or more the amount of low back injuries than licensed practical nurses? “Studies have revealed that newly qualified nurses or trainees are at greater risk for back injury than more experienced personnel. Additional risk factors for back injury are gender (females have higher incidence), shift (evening shift is highest risk), and weight of the nurse (excess weight and poor muscle tone influence development of lumbar lordosis and elevated intra-vertebral disc pressure).”
Nursing aide jobs on SimplyHired.com have increased 4% since November 2009, and orderly jobs have increased by 81% in the same period.
Average salary: $38,000
Occupational hazards: work stress leading to other health and wellness issues, line-of-duty deaths via homicide, auto accidents, and other misadventure
An article about job hazards to police workers reported on the breakdown of U.S. line-of-duty deaths in 2005: “156 line-of-duty deaths were recorded, of which 44% were from assaults on officers, 35% vehicle related (only 3% during vehicular pursuits), and the rest from other causes: heart attacks during arrests/foot pursuits, diseases contracted from suspects, accidental gun discharges, falls, and drownings.”
Sheriff jobs on SimplyHired.com have increased 22% since November 2009, and patrol officer jobs have increased 89% in the same period.