What are America’s most dangerous jobs?

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By Les Christie

(CNN – Sept. 12, 2014) — America’s workplace got safer last year. But these workers were still at a much higher risk of fatal injuries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Loggers

Deaths per 100,000 workers: 91.3

Median wage: $33,630

Even though most trees are now safely cut down using big harvesting machines, not all of them can be downed that way.

When loggers use handheld power saws, they’re much more vulnerable to injury from falling tree limbs and dangerous equipment.

Those daily threats make logging the most dangerous job in the country, with 91.3 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Still, it’s an improvement from the year before — when there was 128 deaths per 100,000 workers.

Jerry Bonagofsky, CEO and safety director for the Washington Contract Loggers Association, credits the improvements to the adoption of safer equipment and procedures.

Fishermen

Deaths per 100,000 workers: 75

Median wage: $33,430

As a crew man on a scallop boat in the waters off New Bedford, Mass., Nestor Franco is at sea for up to two weeks at a time — during which he gets just a few hours of sleep per night.

“After a while, all you can think about is sleep,” said Franco.

Fatigue is a big cause of fishing deaths. Tired fishermen may not notice things like power winches that can grab their clothing and drag them overboard.

Weather, though, is the biggest enemy. Sudden storms can swamp boats and send whole crews into the sea.

In 2013, there were 75 fatalities per 100,000 fishermen — a 36% plunge from the year before, according to the Labor Department.

A switch over to a catch share system, in which fisherman pursue quotas, has helped. No longer are fishermen rushing to catch as many fish as they can.

“We’re not forced out onto the water when it isn’t safe,” said Giuseppe Pennisi, who runs a 76-foot trawler out of Monterey, Calif. “That helps a lot.”

Airplane pilots

Deaths per 100,000 workers: 50.6

Median wage: $98,410

Pilots, especially those manning smaller aircraft, have one of most hazardous jobs — and it’s not hard to see why.

Andrew Airways runs several planes out of Kodiak Island, Alaska, flying sportsmen and tourists into wilderness areas and acting as air taxis for commercial fishermen, loggers and other workers.

But with Alaska’s severe weather and mountainous terrain, flying in the state requires sound judgment and topnotch skills, according to owner Dean Andrew.

The weather can turn on a dime. “Storms can whip in from the Aleutians and turn good weather very bad in an hour,” he said.

In 2013, there were just under 51 pilot fatalities per 100,000, a slight drop from the year before.

Technology has helped. Weather cameras have been installed around the state, giving pilots better information on approaching storms. And more planes are equipped with transmitters that can quickly direct help to injured pilots and passengers in emergencies.

Roofers

Deaths per 100,000 workers: 38.7

Median wage: $35,920

It’s bad enough that a fall might kill you, but roofers face a whole host of other on-the-job hazards as well.

Burns from volatile tars and chemicals, electrocution from contact with exposed power lines, and injuries from falling tiles and other roofing debris are just a few of the risks roofers face each day.

The United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers & Allied Workers has worked to improve worker safety for years, according to John Barnhard, director of research and education.

The group has placed a strong focus on training. And more protection is required, such as body harnesses, edge guards and rope grabs, which have also helped to reduce risk.

As a result, fatalities have generally trended down since 2007, he said. Although there was a slight spike in 2012. That’s when home construction started to bounce back and many new, inexperienced roofers came onto the job.

Sanitation workers

Deaths per 100,000 workers: 33

Median wage: $22,970

Sanitation workers and refuse collectors have higher fatality rates than police or firemen.

In 2013, the fatality rate for these workers jumped 22% from the year before to 33 deaths per 100,000 workers.

In places like New York City, cars, trucks and buses are a constant threat. Impatient drivers squeezing around stopped trucks are a recipe for disaster.

But there are other risks that are harder to see: “Garbage itself is such a chaotic collection,” said Robin Nagel, a humanities professor at New York University and author of Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City.

A trashcan lid or a container of household fluids can be lethal when ejected out of the back of a truck. Garbage bags filled with dangerous or sharp materials can also explode when compacted as they’re swept into the hopper.

“Guys have been hit by raw sewage, by bowling balls and by wood moldings that splinter and come out like a javelin,” said Nagle.

Mining machine operator

Deaths per 100,000 workers: 26.9

Median wage: $49,870

Many mining jobs are done in cramped, underground shafts where cave-ins can trap and injure workers.

The biggest danger miners face, though, is from explosions. In coal mines, methane gases accumulate in coal seams, leak into open spaces and ignite. Coal dust can also explode.

In confined areas like mines, the energy from explosions blasts through the paths of least resistance — the open areas where the miners work.

Over the years, as most coal production has switched to surface mining, underground fatalities have dropped. But even strip mining is dangerous. Workers often get badly hurt by being struck or crushed by heavy machines like giant shovels and bulldozers.

Truck drivers

Deaths per 100,000 workers: 22

Median wage: $27,530

Constantly striving to get packages and other shipments delivered to homes, stores and businesses on time is the goal for the nearly 1.3 million truck drivers that take to the streets each year.

Their pay often depends on volume: the more goods they move, the more they earn. Many work long hours and fatigue often plays a role in accidents. In fact, two-thirds of all driver fatalities involve highway crashes, according to OSHA.

Lamont Byrd, safety director for the Teamsters International (the union representing drivers) said safety has improved over the years by offering training in basic techniques like maintaining safe speeds and following distance.

But not everything that happens out on the road is under the driver’s control. “Inattentive, distracted passenger car drivers are often times at fault,” said Byrd.

Farmers and ranchers

Deaths per 100,000 workers: 21.8

Median wage: $69,300

Grain farmers Ade and Candie Loomis say tasks like transferring wheat to silos can be risky business.

During that process, farmers use a screw-like device called an auger that raises the grain from the hopper to the silo. The exposed, spinning shaft of the auger can latch onto a worker’s clothing and severely injure them.

“It doesn’t stop turning,” said Candie Loomis.

Other dangers farmers and ranchers need to look out for: tractors or all-terrain vehicles can overturn; large animals can kick or crush workers; and heavy equipment can always injure its operator.

An abundance of caution has helped Loomis stay out of harm’s way but it takes focus and discipline while working such long physically demanding hours out in the elements.

Power linemen

Deaths per 100,000 workers: 21.5

Median wage: $58,210

Combine nosebleed heights, high voltage power lines and extreme weather, and you’ve got the makings for one of the most dangerous jobs in the country.

Lineman often have to repair wind-damaged lines, sometimes in the same storms that caused the outage in the first place. They’re pushed to work quickly to restore power to communities, which can result in sometimes lethal mistakes, according to Pete Peterson, a lineman for Ward Electric in Colorado.

Even when they aren’t dealing with such adverse conditions, these workers are handling high-voltage lines that can send thousands of watts surging through their body.

Construction workers

Deaths per 100,000 workers: 17.7

Median wage: $29,160

On a construction site, there are many ways to get injured. Trenches can collapse while workers are digging them; kegs of nails can fall from upper floors and bare wires can carry a deadly electric charge.

And the messier the job site, the worse the risk.

But the most common way workers die on the job is from falls, according to OSHA.

Mandated safety training classes have helped to reduce fatalities. But a recent upturn in home building and other construction has brought many inexperienced new workers to the job, said Mickey Kelly, director, New York State Laborers Health and Safety Trust Fund. And that typically leads to an uptick in accidents.