logo

The 10 most dangerous jobs in America

Key Points
  • There were 5,250 workplace deaths last year, a slight increase from 2017, according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • The most common workplace deaths were related to transportation, with transportation accidents accounting for more than 2,000 work-related deaths.
A contractor guides a steel beam into place while working on the Korean Air Wilshire Grand hotel and office building in downtown Los Angeles.
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

For some people, a bad day at work means missing a deadline or getting yelled at by your boss. For others, it means a serious injury — or worse.

There were 5,250 workplace deaths last year, a slight increase from 2017, according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rate of fatal work injuries remained unchanged at 3.5 per 100,000 workers.

"We're treading water when it comes to worker safety," says Ken Kolosh, the statistics manager for the National Safety Council. "We need to do a better job of protecting workers. Death on the job is not what it should take to get the job done."

The most common workplace deaths were related to transportation, with transportation accidents accounting for more than 2,000 work-related deaths. That's 40% of all work-related fatalities.

The second-most common workplace fatalities involved contact with objects and equipment, which increased 13% to 786 incidents last year. The increase reflected a 39% spike in the number of workers caught in running equipment or machinery, and a 17% increase in the number hit by falling objects or equipment.

Many of the most dangerous jobs on the list, including fishing, farming, logging, and roof construction are also socially important, notes Robert Hughes, an assistant professor in the legal studies and business ethics department of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

"We need food, we need homes with roofs, and a society like ours couldn't do without lumber," he said. "Jobs that involve driving are dangerous, but our society can't do without drivers."

Still, employers have an ethical (and legal) obligation to provide a safe work environment. Here's a look at the 10 most dangerous jobs in America, based on BLS data:

10. First-line supervisors of landscaping, lawn service, and groundskeeping workers

  • Fatal injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers: 20.2
  • Total fatal injuries: 142
  • Most common fatal accidents: transportation incidents
  • Total non-fatal injuries: 1,990
  • Median annual wage: $47,030
  • Number of workers: 100,320
Getty Images

Landscapers spend a lot of time in cars traveling from site to site, putting them at higher risk than some other industries for transportation-related accidents. Landscaping and lawn service supervisors manage the teams that care for lawns. They also handle customer relationships.

9. First-line supervisors of construction trades and extraction workers

  • Fatal injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers: 21
  • Total fatal injuries: 144
  • Most common fatal accidents: transportation incidents
  • Total non-fatal injuries: 5,390
  • Median annual wage: $65,230
  • Number of workers: 598,210
Laborers work at a construction site in Lower Manhattan, January 4, 2019 in New York City.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images

First-line supervisors of construction coordinators manage the construction and extraction workers. Two-thirds of the people who died in this industry last year were independent workers. While the most fatal injuries for this group were transportation-related, they also had high incidents of falls, slips, and trips, as well as contact with objects and equipment.

8. Structural Iron and Steel workers

  • Fatal injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers: 23.6
  • Total injuries: 15
  • Most common fatal accidents: Falls, slips, trips
  • Total non-fatal injuries: 800
  • Median annual wage: $52,770
  • Number of workers: 98,600
Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

While a relatively low number of structural iron and steel workers died on the job last year, the rate of death is higher since there are fewer people in the profession. Structural iron and steel workers install iron or steel elements into buildings during construction. Given the height at which they work, any fall can be dangerous.

7. Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural workers

  • Fatal injuries per full-time equivalent 100,000 workers: 24.7
  • Total fatal injuries: 257
  • Most common fatal accidents: transportation incidents
  • Total non-fatal injuries: 280
  • Median annual wage: $24,620
  • Number of workers: 876,300
Hero Images | Hero Images | Getty Images

Farm workers spend a lot of time outdoors, but they also sometimes travel from farm to farm, putting them at risk for transportation accidents. They get on-the-job training and often do not have a college degree.

6. Driver/sales workers and truck drivers

  • Fatal injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers: 26
  • Total fatal injuries: 966
  • Most common fatal accidents: Transportation incidents
  • Total non-fatal injuries: 78,520
  • Median annual wage: $24,700
  • Number of workers: 414,860
Doug Berry | Getty Images

Given all the time these workers spend on the road, it's not surprising that they're at a higher-than-usual risk for transportation-related workplace accidents. They often drive a company vehicle along a specific route to sell, deliver, or pick up items. This was the occupation group with the highest number of fatalities in 2018.

5. Refuse and recyclable materials collectors

  • Fatal injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers: 44.3
  • Total fatal injuries: 37
  • Most common fatal accidents: Transportation incidents
  • Total non-fatal injuries: 1,490
  • Median annual wage: $36,190
  • Number of workers: 115,130
Mike Clarke | E+ | Getty Images

These workers spend much of their day with a team, driving or riding on a truck to collect materials, increasing the risk of a transportation-related accident. They work in both the public and private sector, depending on location, and must work year-round regardless of the weather or conditions.

4. Roofers

  • Fatal injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers: 51.5
  • Total fatal injuries: 96
  • Most common fatal accidents: falls, slips, and trips
  • Total non-fatal injuries: 2,060
  • Median annual wage: $39,970
  • Number of workers: 160,600
A roofer adjusts shingles at a job site in northwest Washington.
Gary Cameron | Reuters

Much of the job for roofers requires spending time on top of buildings, repairing or installing their roofs. Given that they're often multiple stories above ground, any slip or fall can become a deadly event. The job is a physical one, requiring heavy lifting, climbing, and bending, often in uncomfortable weather conditions.

3. Aircraft pilots and flight engineers

  • Fatal injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers: 58.9
  • Total fatal injuries: 70
  • Most common fatal accidents: Transportation incidents
  • Total non-fatal injuries: 490
  • Median annual wage: $137,330
  • Number of workers: 84,070
Getty Images

Pilots and flight engineers are in charge of navigating and flying airplanes from one place to another, carrying either people or cargo. For this group, the transportation-related incidents, of course, involve plane crashes. Most incidents occur in the private sector.

2. Fishers and related fishing workers

  • Fatal injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers: 77.4
  • Total fatal injuries: 30
  • Most common fatal accidents: Transportation incidents
  • Total non-fatal injuries: N/A
  • Median annual wage: $28,310
  • Number of workers: 520
A fisherman moves a steel lobster trap on a boat off the coast of Plymouth, Massachusetts, U.S., on Tuesday, July 10, 2018.
Adam Glanzman | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Professional fishers use equipment like nets and traps to collect fish for people to eat. Many of the accidents that occur in this industry involve boat incidents or falls from boats. Fishers may spend long hours at sea doing difficult, physical work.

1. Logging workers

  • Fatal injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers: 97.6
  • Total fatal injuries: 74
  • Most common fatal accidents: Contact with objects and equipment
  • Total non-fatal injuries: 1,040
  • Median annual wage: $40,650
  • Number of workers: 53,600
Loggers cut down trees using a chainsaw at a job in Reading, Vt.
Jessica Rinaldi | Boston Globe | Getty Images

Logging workers harvest the trees that are turned into wood for consumer goods and construction needs. Among the biggest risks for loggers are being hit by falling objects while they're felling trees or having an accident operating the equipment that allows them to do so. The rate of fatal accidents in the logging industry is 28 times higher than the all-worker rate of 3.5 fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers.

For more on tech, transformation and the future of work, join CNBC at the @ Work Summit in San Francisco on April 1, 2020.