29 November 2012


Two nights ago my monthly reading group was discussing Ken Kesey's seminal novel Sometimes A Great Notion, which is set in a coastal Oregon logging community in the early 1960s.  The book was made into an eponymous film in 1970.  Our conversation about the characters, the plot, and the writer's craft was wide-ranging, and at one point diverged when a member remarked upon the dangerous nature of logging, and mentioned a list of the top ten most dangerous jobs.

It turns out that certain seemingly obvious professions (police officer, fire fighter) don't appear on the list, which is compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Here, in descending order of risk, are the most perilous jobs in this country, followed by their death rates ~

  1. Fisherman ~ 200 per 100,000
  2. Logger ~ 61.8 per 100,000
  3. Aircraft pilot ~ 57.1 per 100,000
  4. Farmer/rancher ~ 38.5 per 100,000
  5. Roofer ~ 34.7 per 100,000
  6. Structural iron/steel worker ~ 30.3 per 100,000
  7. Refuse collector ~ 25.2 per 100,000
  8. Industrial machinery maintenance worker ~ 18.5 per 100,000
  9. Truck driver ~ 18.3 per 100,000
  10. Construction worker ~ 18.3 per 100,000
My resume happens to include a wider variety of jobs than many.  Of the ten above, I've worked at five.  In addition to the explanations of workplace peril offered in the list, I offer these comments ~
  • Fisherman ~ I spent the summer of 1982 working on board a 300' processing/freezer ship in the coastal waters of Alaska.  The work is brutal ~ long hours in cold and wet conditions, around equipment which will readily dismember or kill.  I narrowly escaped injury more times than I can remember ~ climbing steep wet metal stairways, traversing from one ship to another tied up alongside by means of a swaying foot-wide rope bridge suspended over nothing but icy water, walking along a deck thick with fish slime and rainfall, dodging falling metal cages.  The sea was cold enough to be called "five minute water", meaning that if you fell overboard, your chances of surviving hypothermia and exposure were nil unless you were rescued within five minutes.  One crew member did fall in ~ the ship's crane was hoisting on board one of two dories, and the crewman was in the dory when one of the suspension cables snapped.  Luckily he was right alongside the ship, and as the tidal flow swept him aft, onlookers were quick to throw him  a life preserver on a rope, then climb down a rope ladder to water level to help him back aboard and immediately into a hot shower.  Another crew member lost his footing on one of those steel stairways, fractured his spine, and had to be ferried to shore and airlifted out.  *Note ~ life on board smaller fishing boats (see image above) is even more dangerous, with shifting gear and a deck that plunges and bucks in heavy seas.
  • Logger ~ For a year following Hurricane Hugo's landfall on coastal South Carolina, I worked for the U.S. Forest Service as a wildlife tech, doing habitat recovery for the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker (RCW).  Much of the Francis Marion National Forest had been flattened, including the nesting cavity trees of the woodpeckers' colonies.  As professional loggers worked to clear the salvageable downfall, our crews used similar equipment to install artificial nesting cavities to save the RCWs ~ climbing gear, chainsaws, along with hand tools and construction materials.  Most of our cavities were installed at heights of 20 or 30 feet, but some had to be placed at 40 or 50 feet above the ground.  Long work days, fatigue from lugging 60-80 lb. of gear through a swampy maze of fallen trees, working at height with a chainsaw ~ one slip could cost a limb or a life.
  • Aircraft pilot ~ My experience here is peripheral.  I've studied aviation for nearly 15 years. The statistical danger in being a pilot is certainly higher in small aircraft used for transport, recreation, crop dusting and bush flying.  Airline pilots don't face nearly the same risks (and get paid much more).
  • Farmer/rancher ~ I grew up on farms, and am on intimate terms with the hardships faced by workers of the soil ~ exposure to weather, heavy lifting, machinery breakdowns, or injury from machinery or animals.  Whether you're working with a crew at harvest time, or alone and miles from help, you'd better be resourceful and careful, especially as that hard day wears on.  
  • Truck drivers ~ Here too, my experience is analogous.  I've never driven truck, but I spent two 3-year periods as a professional driver of large, multi-ton vehicles.  I drove transit buses in two municipal systems.  Imagine being on call from 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., expected to pilot a 40-foot bus through dense traffic (whose drivers seem intent on cutting you off at every opportunity) while picking up and dropping off passengers, collecting fares, all on a set route and a tight schedule.  Add the distractions of passenger arguments, profane or violent teenagers, drunks, people who got on the wrong bus, making PA announcements, talking on the radio with your dispatcher, answering passenger questions, and all the while keeping a sharp eye out for errant drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians, and other large vehicles.  The hours wear you down.  Now multiply the stress level by 10 during an urban rush hour.  The risk to life for bus drivers may not approach the risk for truck drivers, but the risk of injury is common to both.  I owe my herniated lumbar disk to my most recent bus driving stint.  Plus, the risk of being in a traffic accident is substantially higher, because a bus is always in traffic.
Enough anecdotes, with this footnote ~ I'm assuming that the list applies to civilian jobs only, and does not include combat infantry in a war zone.  That's a whole 'nother level of danger.

Thanks to Keith for his insight, and for the USBLS link.

No comments:

Post a Comment