It's easy to see why roofers, loggers and power line installers made the list of most hazardous occupations, but for the second year in a row, commercial fishermen occupy the top spot. Check out statistics on the top ten hazardous occupations, and learn what OSHA is doing to help make these dangerous jobs safer.
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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 5,071 workers lost their lives in 2008. The occupations with the highest fatality rates in 2008 were:

  1. Fishers and related fishing workers
  2. Logging workers
  3. Aircraft pilots and flight engineers
  4. Structural iron and steel workers
  5. Farmers and ranchers
  6. Refuse and recyclable material collectors
  7. Roofers
  8. Electrical power-line installers and repairers
  9. Driver/sales workers and truck drivers
  10. Taxi drivers and chauffeurs

While the decline of workplace fatalities is hopeful, economic factors played a role in the fatality decrease. Hours worked at the national level fell by one percent in 2008, and some industries that have historically accounted for a significant share of worker fatalities, such as construction, experienced larger declines in employment or hours worked. It is possible that the economy could be factored into the rise in workplace suicides, which were up 28 percent to a series high of 251 cases in 2008.

What can employers do to protect their employees and prevent these deaths from occurring in the first place? Let's take a closer look at each of the above occupations and see what regulations protect workers in these industries.

  1. Fishers and related fishing workers.

    In both 2007 and 2008, commercial fishermen had the most dangerous job in the United States, with an annual fatality rate that was 28 times greater than the rate of all U.S. workers. A review of commercial fishing fatalities conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard found that during 1994-2004:

    • 641 commercial fishermen died while fishing in the U.S.
    • More than 100 vessels were lost each year and these lost-vessel events resulted in more than half of all fatalities.
    • Another 184 (29%) fatalities were due to fishermen falling overboard.
    • The remainder of the fatalities were due to deck injuries (8%), diving (5%), fires or explosions (5%), and other causes (2%).

    OSHA only has authority over vessels when they are operating within the limits of State territorial waters. OSHA standards for shipyard employment are located in 29 CFR Part 1915. These standards cover many diverse working conditions in shipyard employment, including housekeeping, lighting, utilities, work in confined or isolated spaces, lifeboats, sanitation, and medical services and first aid.

    OSHA proposes to revise the standards on general working conditions in shipyard employment to reflect advances in industry practices and technology. The proposal also would cross-reference general industry standards that either are already applicable to shipyard employment or that OSHA intends to apply. Finally, OSHA proposes to add provisions that would provide protection from hazards not addressed by existing standards, including provisions on the control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout). You can read more about the proposed rule at: http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=FEDERAL_REGISTER&p_id=20234

  2. Logging workers.

    Logging has consistently been one of the most hazardous industries in the United States (US). In 2008, the logging industry employed 86,000 workers, and accounted for 82 deaths. This rate is over 30 times higher than the overall fatality rate in the US in 2008 (3.5 deaths per 100,000).

    The logging operation standard is located at Part 1910.266. It covers safety practices, means, methods, and operations for all types of logging, regardless of the end use of the wood. These types of logging include, but are not limited to, pulpwood and timber harvesting and the logging of sawlogs, veneer bolts, poles, pilings and other forest products. This standard does not cover the construction or use of cable yarding systems.

    A new set of national occupational safety and health goals for the logging industry has been developed as part of the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) process. Further information on logging is also available as part of the NORA Agricultural, Forestry, and Fishing Sector activities.

  3. Aircraft pilots and flight engineers.

    You might be surprised to find aircraft pilots and flight engineers on the top ten list. However, keep in mind that this category also includes commercial pilots of smaller aircraft, including crop dusters, helicopters, and air taxis, that are far more likely to crash than larger passenger aircraft. The number of fatalities in 2008 was 90 for a fatality rate of 72.4 per 100,000 workers.

    Pilots must be trained and practice under Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements. You can learn more about FAA regulations at http://www.faa.gov/regulations.

  4. Structural iron and steel workers.

    Most of us can understand why this category made the top ten list. Structural iron and steel workers had 36 fatalities for an overall fatality rate of 46.4 per 100,000. Hazards include falls from heights, being struck by objects or equipment, objects falling on individuals, as well as slips and trips.

    The OSHA safety standards for steel erection are located at 29 CFR Part 1926 Subpart R. This standard sets performance-oriented criteria, where possible, to protect employees from hazards. The standard contains requirements for hoisting and rigging, structural steel assembly, beam and column connections, joist erection, systems-engineered metal building erection, fall protection and training.

  5. Farmers and ranchers.

    In 2008, there were 317 deaths for a fatality rate of 39.5 per 100,000 workers. This dangerous job also impacts youth who can die or be injured while performing farm work or by being run over or falling off of equipment. An additional 120,000 agricultural workers suffer disabling injuries from work-related accidents. Some of the hazards that farmers and ranchers are exposed to include exposure to chemicals/pesticides, manure pits, weather extremes, noise, electrical hazards, machinery operation, confined spaces such as silos and grain bins, slips, trips, and falls, traffic on roadways, toxic gases, lifting, and animal handling.

    The OSHA safety standard for agriculture is located at 29 CFR Part 1928. This standard covers safety practices for agricultural operations.

  6. Refuse and recyclable material collectors.

    You might not think that this occupation would be one of the most dangerous, but it is. Refuse and recyclable material collectors experienced 31 deaths in 2008 for a fatality rate of 36.8 per 100,000 workers. Types of injuries that can occur include being hit by trucks, ergonomic and lifting issues, slips, trips, and falls, and exposure to chemicals.

    The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) announced that the injury rate during 2008 for both solid waste collection and landfill employees continued to decline, as it has in recent years. The number of fatalities and injuries has decreased for this industry due to several factors. Equipment has been upgraded, with manual rear-load waste collection vehicles being replaced with automated trucks. These vehicles reduce the manual lifting of heavy or oversized waste containers, stepping on and off trucks, and dodging other vehicles.

    Many companies and local governments are also placing a greater emphasis on safety to reduce injury rates and accident frequency. In addition, OSHA announced that there was a decline in OSHA citations issued to the solid waste industry during fiscal year 2009.

    OSHA's General Duty Clause at Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act applies to this occupation. It requires that each employer:

    (a)(1) shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees;

    (a)(2) shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.

    (b) Each employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this Act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct.

  7. Roofers.

    Roofers experienced 69 fatalities for a fatality rate of 34.4 per 100,000 workers. In 2008, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that fatal work injuries involving falls decreased 20 percent in 2008 after a sharp increase in 2007. The 847 fatal falls in 2007 was the series high.

    Identifying fall hazards and deciding how best to protect workers is the first step in reducing or eliminating fall hazards. OSHA recognizes that accidents involving falls are generally complex events frequently involving a variety of factors. Consequently, the standard for fall protection deals with both the human and equipment-related issues in protecting workers from fall hazards.

    For example, employers and employees need to:

    • Where protection is required, select fall protection systems appropriate for given situations.
    • Use proper construction and installation of safety systems.
    • Supervise employees properly.
    • Use safe work procedures.
    • Train workers in the proper selection, use, and maintenance of fall protection systems. OSHA regulations pertaining to construction fall protection can be found at 29CFR 1926.501.
  8. Electrical power-line installers and repairers.

    Electrical power-line installers and repairers had 35 fatalities for a fatality rate of 29.8 per 100,000 workers. The construction industry has the highest number of electrical fatalities of any industry, with about 52% of all occupational electrical fatalities between 2003 and 2007. Contact with overhead power lines, followed by contact with wiring, transformers, or other electrical components were the reasons behind the fatalities that occurred.

    Safety practices stipulated by OSHA include:

    • Looking for overhead power lines and buried power line indicators. Post warning signs.
    • Contacting utilities for buried power line locations.
    • Staying at least 10 feet away from overhead power lines.
    • Assuming that overhead lines are energized, unless you know otherwise.
    • De-energizing and grounding lines when working near them. Other protective measures include guarding or insulating the lines.
    • Using non-conductive wood or fiberglass ladders when working near power lines.

    OSHA safety standards addressing electric power generation, transmission, and generation are located at 29CFR 1910.269.

  9. Driver/sales workers and truck drivers.

    The risk of roadway crashes associated with on-the-job operation of motor vehicles affects millions of U.S. workers. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in 2007, nearly 3.9 million workers in the U.S. were classified as motor vehicle operators. Over 40% (1.6 million) of these motor vehicle operators were employed as heavy truck (including tractor-trailer) drivers. Other workers who use motor vehicles in performing their jobs are spread across numerous occupations. Driver/sales workers and truck drivers had 815 fatalities for a fatality rate of 22.8 per 100,000 workers.

    This industry faces a high risk of illness and injury, but the prevalence of specific health problems, and the relative contributions of occupation and health behaviors to the increased risk of injury and illness, is largely unknown. Some research associates the risk of crash-related deaths with job-related fatigue. Other studies suggest that the risks of cancer, heart attacks, and other disorders may be associated with aspects of long-haul driving such as loading and unloading cargo, irregular schedules, long hours of driving, a sedentary lifestyle, and the nature of drivers' food choices on the road.

    Employers need to ensure their drivers are practicing proper defensive driving techniques. This, along with staying healthy mentally and physically, getting adequate exercise, and getting proper rest can help prevent health-related factors that can impact driving alertness and ability.

  10. Taxi drivers and chauffeurs.

    Taxi and limousine services make it easy for customers to get around when driving their own cars or using public transportation is inconvenient. But this profession also makes the top ten list for hazardous occupations. In 2008, taxi drivers and chauffeurs had 69 fatalities for a fatality rate of 19.3 per 100,000 workers. Hazards include not only crashes in cities and on highways, but also, because of the solitary nature of the job, the increased likelihood for robbery and homicide.

    Employers need to ensure their drivers are practicing proper defensive driving techniques while operating their vehicles. Some regulations do apply to these individuals if they meet certain requirements. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, requires that motor carriers operating commercial motor vehicles (CMVs), designed or used to transport between 9 and 15 passengers (including the driver) in interstate commerce, must comply with the applicable safety regulations when they are directly compensated for such services and the vehicle is operated beyond a 75 air mile radius from the driver's normal work-reporting location. A synopsis of the FMCSA regulations pertaining to small passenger-carrying vehicles can be found at: http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/rules-regulations/bus/company/smallvanbackinfo.htm.

    Even the most common of jobs can be dangerous when you consider the hazards. Practice safety on the job to avoid being part of the above statistics.

Portions © 2010 JJ Keller