America's most dangerous jobs

A government report says fishermen continue to lead the nation in fatality rates.

By Les Christie, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- Last year was a safer one for workers in the United States; 5,703 died on the job, down slightly from the 5,734 fatalities in 2005. The rate was 3.9 per 100,000 workers, slightly lower than the 4.0 per 100,000 in 2005.

But recent events - In January, the Coast Guard found a fishing boat submerged in 36 feet of icy water off Cape Cod after a winter storm; an early August medical plane crash in New Mexico left five dead; and the story of trapped mine workers in Utah, which continues to unfold - underscore the perilous natures of many vocations.

Top 10 dangerous jobs
The occupations with the highest fatality rates in 2006.
Occupation Deaths per 100,000 workers
Fishermen 141.7
Pilots 87.8
Loggers 82.3
Structural iron and steel workers 61.0
Refuse collectors 41.8
Farmers and ranchers 37.1
Power linemen 34.9
Roofers 33.9
Drivers 27.1
Agricultural workers 21.7
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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These examples of death and danger on the job are just a few of the back-stories behind the statistics released every August by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its report of fatalities in the work place.

Several industries dominate the BLS data. Year in and year out, the single deadliest U.S. job is commercial fisherman, and this year was no exception. At 141.7 deaths per 100,000 workers, fisherman had, by far, the highest fatality rate among all the listed U.S. occupations.

For fishermen, storms come up quicker than they can be outrun. Rogue waves wash them overboard. Heavy equipment bangs around the decks. Power winches and hoists yank ropes around that can snag a seaman's foot and drag him overboard.

Fishing is often pursued under harsh conditions. In the boat found in January, four crewmen were missing and presumed dead and the bodies of two, including the captain, Antonio Barroqueiro, were later recovered.

Barroqueiro had lost his younger brother to the sea 14 years ago. Fishing fatalities often run in families. The Fisherman's Memorial in Gloucester, Mass. has repeated many family names over the years.

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People who fly for a living also face danger daily, earning them the number-two spot on the BLS list. The highest rates of fatalities for commercial pilots come not from the big airlines, who log thousands of daily flights mostly without incident, but among the more modest levels of the flying industry such as crop dusters and bush pilots.

Occupational aircraft-related fatalities jumped last year to 215, a 44 percent increase, after falling in 2005 to 149. The fatality rate was 87.8 per 100,000, second only to the fishing industry.

Weather often plays a factor with clouds and fog-hindering navigation. The single biggest cause of fatalities involves what the BLS calls "flying into terrain, under speed." Flights may start out in clear skies and end in low visibility - and disaster.

Another occupation that produces more than its fair share of fatalities is timber cutting, landing it at the number three spot on the BLS list. Loggers work with dangerous tools, often on steep slopes, threatened by the tremendous weight of the trees. Like workers in many other dangerous pursuits, they're often under pressure to work quickly, increasing risk.

In 2006, 82.1 per 100,000 loggers died on the job.

Coal mining deaths were not in the top 10 jobs with the highest fatality rates, but the rate nearly doubled last year, jumping 84 percent to 49.5 fatalities per 100,000 workers, largely due to the Sago mine disaster that killed 12. A total of 47 fatalities were recorded in 2006, up from 22 in 2005.

Numerically, the occupation that produced the most deaths in 2006 was the massive construction industry. 1,226 workers died in construction accidents, for a 3 percent increase. Structural iron and steel workers died at a rate of 61 per 100,000.

Crime against workers was a factor in many fields. When pizza delivery man, Boston Smithwick, was robbed and shot outside Pittsburgh last April, he was the second such employee of the Vocelli Pizza shop killed in the past two years. Taxi and limo drivers and convenience store clerks are also common victims of robbery and murder.

But this kind of fatality has fallen precipitously, down 50 percent since 1994. In 2006, they dropped 9 percent to 516 year over year.

Texas had the highest number of fatalities per state - 486. California recorded 448 and Florida 355. Top of page