Studies in Britain and the USA have found the rate of fatalities in the fishing industry to lie somewhere between 100 and 130 deaths in every 100,000 workers. It’s a tough, labour intensive job, sometimes involving months at sea away from family and friends and frankly not that great a wage yet many people still do it and enjoy it too. It’s status as one of the most dangerous jobs is well known though, Alaskan crab fishermen in particular have one of the highest on-the-job mortality rates. Though the average pay for a fisherman in America is estimated at $28,000 the earnings of an Alaskan crab fisher are based on shares which are only determined by how good or bad a season they have.
Accidents and fatalities occur for a number of reasons; death through injury sustained dealing with heavy or difficult to manage equipment, going overboard in bad weather or whole vessels becoming lost at sea.
This is a bit of a cheat because this is a list of the most dangerous jobs on Earth while by necessity an astronaut’s job takes place beyond the confines of Earth. However there is a tremendous risk of death at the point of exit and entry to Earth so I’ll count it. This is also one of the most highly paid professions with some earning up to $100,000, contrasting starkly with the low pay prospects of fishermen. Furthermore the instance of death on the job among astronauts is a whopping 5%, 50 times more than fishermen!
The dangers of sitting on top of what is essentially a rocket and blasting yourself outside of Earth’s atmosphere into space where you cannot survive without a special suit is indisputable. Each time an astronaut travels there is a grave risk that something could go wrong.
What’s more, travelling into space causes the onset of osteoporosis for astronauts. Although their trips into space are few and far between, in just one long space flight astronauts can lose 10 times more bone density than we do on Earth or 2% of their bone every month that they’re in space due to the low gravity environment. This is then quite slow to recover once back on Earth, leaving them vulnerable to serious bone breaks. They also risk high levels of exposure to radiation on a daily basis not to mention the possibility of a solar storm in deep space, during which time the astronauts have to hide out in storm shelters onboard the spacecraft.
On a beach in Pakistan massive hulks of steel ships come to die. These are generally disused cargo ships that may have carried any number of things during their years of service including dangerous chemicals that may still be onboard. It falls to desperately poor labourers of Southern Asia to break these ships apart by hand. Workers travel from far and wide to carry out this dangerous job.
According to the International Labour Organisation thousands of people die every year in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan breaking down ships. The Guardian reported last year that one worker dies every week and a least one person is injured everyday in this line of work. The lack of safe working practices, poor resources and minimal job training mean the number of accidents and deaths is very high. The risk involved in the job doesn’t translate to even a half decent wage though. These men will earn a few dollars a day and put themselves in harm’s way 7 days a week with no safety gear. It is only utter desperation that leads them to take a job that may kill or injure them so badly they can never work again.
I think mining as a profession was for a time largely thought of as belonging to a bygone era, at least in the places like Britain where the mining industry has shut down. However mining is still an active industry all over the world, extracting the Earth’s natural resources which we rely on. We were reminded of this in a shocking way in 2010 when a mine near Copiapo in Northern Chile collapsed, trapping the miners themselves underground. The story of their rescue went out worldwide and has since become known as the ‘Chilean mining accident’. Thankfully this story ended happily with all 33 miners surviving, a luck escape in an industry that is known to claim many lives. This incident really highlighted the ongoing dangers of mining and the importance of confined space rescue teams.
Apart from the risk of a mine collapsing and killing or trapping you underground the conditions of the mine pose considerable health risks too. Miners can be exposed to large amounts of silica dust that causes a type of lung disease called silicosis known commonly as Potter’s rot. Particles of silica embed themselves inside the lungs which cause terrible pain, difficulty breathing and can also lead to TB.
I’ve included slaughterhouse workers not because of the deaths (which are calculated at 2 in every 100,000 in America) but because of the risk of illness and disease. The risks are not widely known but in 2009 a story broke in America about workers in a Minnesota pig processing plant who, during the course of their work, inhaled particles of pig brain and became sick with strange neurological symptoms. At least 12 workers out of 1,300 were affected, suffering pain, numbness and weakness in their arms and legs and in some cases difficulty walking or performing tasks. All the workers with these symptoms worked removing pigs’ brains. The ratio of the total number of workers to sick workers is almost 1 in 100 but factor in that all the workers came from the same work station (the pig’s head table) and the risk of infection for that particular job is phenomenally high.
This wasn’t the first incident of health problems linked to work in meat processing plants. In 1985 a report was conducted investigating the cause behind sick workers at a meat packing plant in California. At least 5 workers presented with Q fever, a bacterial infection. In similar circumstances to the 2009 story Q fever is generally contracted through inhalation. The infected people suffered flu-like symptoms such as headache, fever and muscle pain but also abdominal pain.
Although Q fever can improve without treatment the workers in Minnesota with dumbness in their limbs didn’t recover fully from their symptoms. Even with a low count of fatalities this is a pretty unpleasant and potentially dangerous job for a very unsatisfactory wage of around $27,000.