“Automation is driving the decline of banal and repetitive tasks.” — Amber Rudd
Five years ago, I had the opportunity to give a TED talk called “Deadly Jobs”. I talked about the hazards that consistently contribute to work-related fatalities and the deadly occupations in the United States.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently released its report on work-related fatalities for 2022. What, if anything, has changed?
Deadly Jobs in 2017
The BLS reports fatality rates in terms of fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalents (FTEs). A full-time equivalent is 2000 hours worked, so if one person puts in a lot of overtime, they can be more than one FTE. In 2017, the overall fatality rate was 3.5 in the United States.
The five deadliest jobs, along with their fatality rates:
- 99.8 Commercial fisher
- 84.3 Logger
- 48.6 Aircraft pilot/flight engineer
- 45.2 Roofer
- 35.0 Trash collector
The shocking surprise for most people was that pilots and flight engineers had the third deadliest job in the U.S. It’s no surprise to life insurance companies, though. Anyone who applies for life insurance is asked if they have a pilot’s license. The fact that trash collectors make the top five also surprises many, until they think about the nature of the job: riding on the back of a truck, working in traffic without the benefit of flaggers, working directly with equipment designed to crush material.
Deadly Jobs in 2022
The overall fatality rate for U.S. workers in 2022 was 3.7. This is in the range of where it has been since 2009. The five deadliest jobs in 2022 were also much the same as they were in 2017, but there are some changes worth noting.
- 100.7 Logger
- 57.5 Roofer
- 50.9 Commercial fisher
- 38.5 Construction laborer
- 35.9 Aircraft pilot/flight engineer
Logging has been one of the two deadliest jobs in the U.S. for as long as the BLS has been sharing the data. In the two decades preceding 2022, the average fatality rate for loggers was 107. Except for the shear deadliness of logging, 2022 was not noteworthy.
Roofing is more dangerous now than it has ever been. For years, the fatality rate for roofers was around 35. The fatality rate began climbing in 2012 and alarmed OSHA so much that they put new fall protection regulations in place in 2017. Those regulations haven’t helped. The fatality rate for roofers has continued to climb; in 2022, roofing had become the second deadliest occupation in the U.S.
Fishing has been the other of the two deadliest jobs in the U.S. Until 2022. In the two decades preceding 2022, the average fatality rate for commercial fishers was 115. In many years, fishing was the deadliest job in the U.S. In 2022, however, the fatality rate for commercial fishing was lower than it has ever been. So, falling to third isn’t just a result of roofing getting more dangerous. Fishing is safer. It will be interesting to see if this is a fluke, or the continuation of a downward trend that started in 2019.
Construction labor wasn’t in the top five in 2017. Before 2019, construction laborers weren’t even in the top 10 of deadliest jobs. Then, in 2019, the reported fatality rate jumped from around 15 to 40. It’s been in that range since then. I don’t know what is going on, but the construction industry has a safety problem that needs to be addressed.
Flying rounds out top 5 deadliest occupations in 2022. It has gotten significantly safer than it was, however, and 2022 doesn’t seem to be an aberration.
The job that was on the top 5 list back in 2017 that isn’t in 2022 is trash collection. For years, the fatality rate for trash collectors was around 35. It began falling in 2020. This isn’t related to the Covid-19 pandemic. Rather, it is likely a result of the increasing adoption of mechanization of trash collecting, where a single driver operating the trash truck is able to pick up and dump trash bins without leaving the relative safety of the cab. We should expect to see the fatality rate for trash collectors to continue falling as this technology is increasingly adopted.
The safest jobs continue to be what they’ve always been: accountants, librarians, and mathematicians. The primary cause of death for them continues to be what it has always been: work-related transportation. In other words, being killed in a car wreck while driving between facilities.
Not Much Has Changed
There have been some changes in the deadliness of jobs. Pilots, fishers, and trash collectors have safer jobs. It’s probably not because the nature of pilots, fishers, and trash collectors has changed. It’s because the nature of the jobs have changed. More automation and mechanization help to keep these workers out of harm’s way.
On the other hand, construction laborers are at greater risk of dying on the job now than they have been in a long time, and unfortunately, it seems to be the trend. The same is true for roofers.
Overall, however, the safety of jobs seems to be about the same as it has been. And as the safest jobs demonstrate, the major cause of work-related fatalities continues to be transportation.
Look to the Bright Spots
Jobs get safer when we figure out how to keep the people doing them out of harm’s way. That may mean automating or mechanizing the job, as is the case with trash collectors. But it means changing the nature of the job, not changing the worker. We can all help make a safer workplace by figuring out how to make the work safer.