Co.Design

Infographic: The Deadliest Job Isn't What You Expect

Are we safer at work today than we were 20 years ago?

Fishing, logging, farming, and working as an aircraft pilot / flight engineer count among the most dangerous jobs in America. But in raw numbers, they are not the deadliest. That grim distinction goes to driving.

Truck drivers, sales reps, and other car-bound workers suffered 683 fatal injuries, according to this infographic based on 2011 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s more than the combination of all four fields mentioned above.

The chart was developed by the online workplace safety education company eTraining, and it goes beyond simply ticking off America’s most hazardous occupations; it conveys a whole of truckload of stats about on-the-job fatalities, such as where employees die most frequently (the same states, for the most part, with the biggest populations); which gender is most at risk (men, overwhelmingly); and the commonest way workers fall to their death (off a ladder, FTW). "Hopefully, this helps put into perspective the importance of safety at the workplace," eTraining writes on its blog.

The folks at eTraining, of course, have a stake in freaking everyone out—all the more reason for us to sign up for an eTraining course! But if you look closely, there’s a more interesting narrative here: Workplace deaths have actually plummeted since the early 1990s. The infographic shows 4,547 victims in 2010, compared with 6,217 in 1992.

Whatever the reason for this decrease—a bigger OSHA budget? Stricter regulations? The twilight of industrialization?—it suggests that our working lives are, on a whole, much safer today than they were 20 years ago. Just try to stay off the highway.

[Image: gualtiero boffi/Shutterstock]

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13 Comments

  • $30281649

    I'd be interested in seeing the per capita rate of injuries. Jacking up your back and not being able to move can be just as bad as death in some cases

    Also, there is a typo: "WAYS IN W(H)ICH FATAL INJURIES CAN HAPPEN"

  • Ellie K

    At least half of the prior comments have already quibbled about the one minor spelling error. As for "Jacking up your back": Do you mean a devastating injury resulting in quadriplegia and total paralysis, on a ventilator for life? That's material for another chart. This is for workplace fatalities.

    True, the chart has some issues. It does link back to the source. Notice also that the data sources were NOT "Online MBA Schools" and old Time magazine posts, which is unusual, and much better than most other infographics that I see online!

  • Jessca

    This data is completely misleading. Driving has more fatalities by simple numbers but a lower percentage because there are more drivers than loggers. Also, "driving" is a broader distinction -- are pizza deliverymen included in there, too? They drive and there's always the possibility that they could be involved in a fatal car crash. Driving in and of itself is a leading cause of death as a whole, not just when you're doing it for your job. Driving kills more people because more people do it, but that doesn't mean it's less safe than the other professions listed. It reminds me of the statistic that the majority of traffic accidents happen within a few-mile radius of one's home -- that happens because we spend most of our time driving within that radius, not because residential neighborhood streets are inherently more dangerous than interstate highways.

  • Dave Parry


    It would also be instructive to compare the fatality rates in the
    high-risk occupations with the overall rate.  I don't know what that is,
    but extrapolating from the UK figures with 173 deaths and a 0.6/100k
    rate - one would expect the US to suffer about 900 fatalities for the
    same rate (multiply by 5 to reflect the 5x larger population).  With
    4,500 deaths the US appears to be about 5 times more dangerous overall
    and have an average death rate of 3/100k workers.

  • Noone

    Of the "Occupations With High Fatal Injury Rates" the safest occupation seems to be Law Enforcement. Yet their unions will lead you to believe otherwise and heap large salaries and lifetime benefits upon their members.

  • Ellie K

    I am going to agree with Jessca and say that there is no way that I will be convinced that jobs in Law Enforcement are not more dangerous than most occupations. This is a chart of workplace fatalities, not injuries. Law Enforcement is not known for heaping large salaries on workers, certainly not on those whose daily work involves high exposure to risky circumstances. It seems plausible that high-level  administrative positions in Law Enforcement would be safe and well compensated, but that is a tiny fraction of a percent of all Law Enforcement, I am fairly certain.

  • Foursilverhearts84

     I am going to guess that their fatality rate is due to the work of those unions. Do you really think that Law Enforcement isn't a dangerous job? These are the men and women who confront violent criminals and angry folks who want to start fights and shoot things. Thanks to those unions, protections are in place to keep them safe. Things like excellent healthcare and bulletproof vests help keep the fatality rates from getting too high.

  • Stephen Stanley

    You lost me on the first graph, the one that shows the NUMBER of workplace fatalities per state.  This statistical thinker immediately made the correlation between the size of those cute little bubbles and the population of the state.  And counting the number of states where accidents increased, I get 23, about what we'd expect from random chance.  By not using a zero scale for the budget graphic, you make the slope much more dramatic than it really is and besides, OSHA's budget has approximately doubled over 20 years, about what would be expected due to inflation.  Fatalities in the workplace are down, more likely reflecting that famous loss of manufacturing jobs than increased safety.  I could go on and on but the bottom line is this:

    It's a pretty graphic but it doesn't say much.

  • Johnny X

    Data vizsturbation. The graphics are made pretty instead of truly representing the data. 

  • Michael VanDervort

    You have a typo in your Infographic. It says "Ways in wich fatal injuries happen"...

  • Guest

    Surely the deadliest job is the one where you have the greatest likelihood of dying, which means fishing, logging and flying are all deadlier than driving. Seems like a deliberate misinterpretation just to get an interesting lede.

  • Jspritz

    I guess it's good to dramatize these issues graphically rather than in bullet points -- but geez, can I be a little nit-picky, here?  The third chart is titled "Ways In Wich Fatal Injuries Happen" -- I don't think we've been spelling "which" that way since the 1400s.  [The same chart spells "environments" as "enviroments."]  And there are some really egregious examples of chartjunk.  For example, the second-to-last frame, Construction's "Fatal Fours," has a wildly inaccurate image of the numerical relationship between 260 and the three other numbers.  They wanted to make a cute image showing the miner enclosed inside the sphere-of-data, but it just doesn't make visual sense.  I think eTraining might have steered clear of the let's-use-every-version-of-a-comparative-chart-we-can-think-of, and instead presented the data in uniform formats that are still compelling.