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Sanitation worker
Sanitation worker
New York City sanitation workers.
Fatality rate: 25.2 per 100,000

Median wages: $32,070

Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis Tenn., when he came to support black sanitation workers who were striking against unequal treatment.

Ironically, 40 years later, that conflict continues to have an impact on the health and safety of Memphis sanitation workers.

According to Warren Cole, the president of the union local, black workers were frozen out of the city pension plan years ago, leaving them only social security. Many have had to keep working at this demanding job much longer because they can't afford to retire.

"We lost one of our workers last week," said Cole. "Emmite Johnson had finished running his route. Memphis has been averaging about 100 degrees with high humidity, and he fell waiting for a bus. He was 70 years old."

Summer may be tough on sanitation workers, but they also endure hazardous wastes all year long. Cole said a new peril is from portable meth labs, which are set up in vans or automobiles.

Explosive bi-products are discarded in garbage bins or alongside roads, a lethal danger to sanitation workers.

There's also the heavy equipment, like compactors, that can grab and crush workers if they're not careful.

NEXT: Industrial machinist

Last updated August 20 2010: 9:38 AM ET
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