No matter who you are or what kind of work you do, you want to be safe while on the job. From agriculture to education, medical care to construction, there are risks, and it’s a good idea to understand what they are before accepting that new position.
Every year, the U.S. Bureau Of Labor Statistics (BLS) compiles a list of workplace injuries, illnesses, and incidence rates. Here's a look at the industries and jobs that top the list for 2015.
Most Dangerous Industries
The following are the private industries reported by the BLS with the highest injury and illness rates.
1. Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting
Working the land is one of our nation’s oldest professions, but agriculture and forestry have the highest incidence of injury and illness. Workers perform physically demanding labor outdoors, which is a combination that leads to increased distress.
Injuries in this industry tend to be upper body extremity injuries—more than 5,700 out of 10,000 studied workers report injuries related to the shoulder, arm, hand, or wrist.
Recent technologies designed to make agricultural work safer have not changed the numbers dramatically. In fact, a recent report demonstrates that incidents are on the rise.
2. Transportation and Warehousing
Truck and taxi driving are well known to be among the most perilous professions. Taxi and livery drivers are often victims of violence and also suffer physical injury due to stress and auto accidents.
Again, upper extremity injury is the most prevalent, but only slightly ahead of trunk and back injury, which makes up a huge percentage of the cases. A majority of these incidents are reported as “soreness and pain” rather than the sprains and tears seen in agricultural work.
3. Health Care and Social Assistance
Those in health care certainly do not have the issue of lack of proximity to medical facilities. In fact, the difficulty here is precisely the opposite. Working with people in distress, particularly those suffering from contagious disease, is something that leads to health problems.
Many in the medical industry are susceptible to what is called a “needle stick” injury. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), approximately 5.6 million healthcare workers are at risk for accidental needle sticks infected with pathogens that include HIV, Hepatitis, and other diseases.
One lesser-known occupational hazard is called “smoke plume” inhalation. This means breathing in the carcinogenic byproducts of lasers, surgical pencils, and ultrasonic equipment.
There is also the question of physical violence in the medical field. A staggering 30% of nurses report being the victim of physical abuse.
4. Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation
While this sector sounds glamorous, it is in fact the fourth most dangerous private industry (even more than construction or mining). One immediately thinks of athletes who are regularly in need of medical attention, but rarely does anyone consider the difficulty of those who work in groundskeeping, outdoor recreation, hospitality, or as fitness workers.
Cooks and wait staff regularly suffer from mishaps on the job like cuts and lacerations to the the hands and upper extremities.
Not surprisingly, working with powerful tools and machinery leads to a high risk of injury. OSHA estimates that 95,000 workers are injured and 100 killed in forklift-related accidents every year.
Again, sprains, tears, and fractures are the most common ailments reported with parts and material causing the majority of injury.
A Deeper Look at Industries
Within the private industries studied, this is a more detailed look at the specific sub-categories that have the highest injury and illness incidence rates.
In the farming, fishing, and forestry arena it is aquaculture—fishing and fishery related jobs—that dominate the most dangerous position overall, and by a good margin. While dealing with elements like rough seas and bad weather is clearly dangerous, the largest issue is that safeguards put in place have been woefully insufficient.
Manufacturing weighs in as the sixth most dangerous industry. Within that sector are a few of the most dangerous jobs: household furniture and mobile/motor home manufacturing. Workers in these positions tend to have much higher rates of hearing loss, are exposed to harsh chemicals, and work with large pieces of machinery. The RV industry is particularly known for lax construction safety practices and the use of once-banned chemicals like formaldehyde to cheapen the manufacturing process.
State by State Incidence Rates
Where you live may also have an effect on injury and illness. Here is a breakdown by state of the incidence rates of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses in private industries.
The state with the highest injury and illness rate is Maine, with approximately twice the per capita rate of Louisiana, the state with the lowest number of reported incidents. While one may think of Maine as a place for agriculture or mining, the largest industry is healthcare, which might explain the corresponding level of injury/illness.
Other states in the top ten are those with a high degree of forestry and agriculture jobs, including Washington, Montana, and Alaska. Alaska has a very active aquaculture industry, which likely contributes to this classification. In Montana, while outdoor jobs are prevalent, their booming construction industry is what causes an elevated level of injury and illness.
It is important to remember that each state reports injuries differently. It may just be that Maine, for example, is particularly conscientious when it comes to their concern for worker safety -- and not necessarily that those in the northern part of the counrty state are more accident prone.
What Can We Learn?
Safety should be a primary concern for both employers and employees. The least dangerous work environments can tell us a lot about how to we can improve safety of the workforce. The top three with the lowest rates of injury are offices, technical management jobs that includes service professionals, and financial services providers.
The relative safety of these positions is likely due in part to their sedentary, indoor, and less strenuous physical nature. Back injuries tend to me the most common. Rather than being caused by parts and material, these mishaps are usually caused by slips and falls.
Demanding safety training, as well as resources for professions with high instances of injury or illness, is crucial for employees who wish to remain healthy over time. In addition, employers must understand where risk levels are highest and how to create strategies to help their workers remain safe and healthy.