Dangerous Jobs

The tragedy in West Virginia reminds us that some careers are deadlier than others. From pilots to oilmen, The Daily Beast pores over the data to determine the toughest jobs in America.

Nick Hall / Aurora Photos,Nick Hall

Nick Hall / Aurora Photos

#1, Fisherman

Fatalities: 129 per 100,000 workers
Reported Injuries: 61 per 100,000 workers
Salary: $27,950

Recent tragedy: In January 2009, lifelong fisherman Bill Meldrum departed from the New Jersey coast to fish for flounder and yellowtail on the 65-foot Lydia J. Meldrum's legs got caught in one of the boat's pulleys and he died after going into shock from blood loss. At the time of his death he was 53 years old and had been married just five months to Isabel Meldrum, who told the Asbury Park Press that he was known for his devotion to other fisherman. "I can remember him coming home from work one night and saying, 'Let's go to Wal-Mart and get boots,'" she said. "He bought three pairs. He gave them to workers he had seen that morning that were tying plastic bags around their feet to keep dry."

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#2, Logger

Fatalities: 116 per 100,000 workers
Reported Injuries: 7 per 100,000 workers
Salary: $30,360

Recent tragedy: In 2003, 24-year-old Jessie Rucker left for his third day of work as a logger in Glendale, Oregon. He was an Army veteran and an avid outdoorsman, but was just learning how to drive wedges into trees to make them fall in a particular direction. When a 105-foot pine tree began to fall, the base of the tree separated from the top and crushed Rucker. His father, Robert, told People magazine in 2006, "He knew it was dangerous… He said, 'If I do what the guy tells me to do, I'll be OK.'"

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#3, Farmer/rancher

Fatalities: 40 per 100,000 workers
Reported Injuries: 7 per 100,000 workers
Salary: $49,140

Recent tragedy: Robert Alfred Wallace was clearing brush on his California farm on a Sunday afternoon in mid-July in 2008. A neighbor bringing him dinner around found him crushed under the wheels of his John Deere tractor. The local county coroner ruled Wallace had died from the impact when the tractor flipped, telling the San Mateo County Times, "He was found without a heartbeat. The accident could have happened a couple hours before he was found."

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#4, Structural construction worker

Fatalities: 46 per 100,000 workers
Reported Injuries: 6 per 100,000 workers
Salary: $47,170

Recent tragedy: Nearly at the end of his day working on steel girders last June, Stanley Roberts of Indianapolis fell 50 feet off a crane to his death. He was wearing a safety harness, which, if properly attached to the crane, would have prevented the fall. Roberts' widow insisted that the official report—that the harness wasn't properly attached—was mistaken, saying to The Indianapolis Star that he "would tell me all the time how some of the other guys wouldn't tie on, and he would say he wasn't going out if he wasn't tied up." The couple were married for 27 years.

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#5, Sanitation worker

Fatalities: 37 per 100,000 workers
Reported Injuries: 5 per 100,000 workers
Salary: $32,790

Recent tragedy: Around 9 on a Monday morning last March, a man in Phoenix heard someone screaming "Help!" outside his home. His wife and family fled the house toward the screams, which seemed to be coming from inside a garbage truck. But the screams stopped soon after they got there. Rescue workers later found the body of Robert Amaral inside the compactor of the truck. Police determined he had been caught from the waist down while trying to repair a malfunction. Amaral left behind three children and six grandchildren and family members told the local ABC News affiliate that, "he loved his job."

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#6, Airplane pilot

Fatalities: 72 per 100,000 workers
Reported Injuries: 2 per 100,000 workers
Salary: $111,680

Recent tragedy: This week, a former stunt pilot and stunt pilot teacher died after the single-engine plane they were flying in tilted while descending and hit a lake in Texas, sinking upon impact. Charles "Chuck" Stutesman was a commerical pilot for 40 years and served in the U.S. Air Force in Korea. His wife Sue told the Arizona Range News, "Some of his favorite memories were when he delivered by plane bread and other food stuff—to an Indian reservation in northern Arizona—when blizzard prohibited the usual method of delivery."

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#7, Roofer

Fatalities: 34 per 100,000 workers
Reported Injuries: 3 per 100,000 workers
Salary: $37,430

Recent tragedy: In Queens, New York, a roofer was replacing shingles on a two-story house last fall when his aluminum ladder struck a live wire and 120 volts surged through his body. William Barrett, just 27 years old and an expectant father, went into cardiac arrest and fell from the ladder. He was later pronounced dead, though it was unclear if it was from the shock or the fall. Co-workers witnessed the incident, one telling the New York Daily News, "we were looking right at him… we just couldn't do anything."

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#8, Coal miner

Fatalities: 22 per 100,000 workers
Reported Injuries: 6 per 100,000 workers
Salary: $46,540

Recent tragedy: Just a day after New Year's in 2006, the Sage Mine in West Virginia exploded, trapping 13 workers in the mine. Confusion was blamed for the 90-minute lapse between the explosion and the time when a rescue crew was called at 8 a.m. It took rescue workers 41 hours to locate the trapped miners; only one was found alive.

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#9, Merchant mariner

Fatalities: 23 per 100,000 workers
Reported Injuries: 5 per 100,000 workers
Salary: $61,960

Recent tragedy: One late Wednesday night in early February, a 56-foot tugboat sank in a Gulf of Mexico inlet near Houston. The Coast Guard was dispatched, but the rescue team was able to locate only four of the boat’s five crewmembers, who were treated for mild hypothermia. The fifth member's body was found the next day by search divers. Early reports indicated that another ship's wake caused the tugboat to sink.

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#10, Miller

Fatalities: 12 per 100,000 workers
Reported Injuries: 9 per 100,000 workers
Salary: $37,400

Recent tragedy: Cody Rigsby was just 17 when he started working for Tempel Grain Elevator company in Colorado. He was still just 17 when he became trapped in a bin of grain and suffocated to death last November. Following Rigsby's death, OSHA found three other teenage workers aged 14 to 17 were subject to hazardous working conditions and the U.S. Department of Labor imposed fines for safety and child labor law violations. "It didn't dawn on me that they would send these boys in some place where they could be crushed by grain without some kind of safety equipment," Rigsby’s mom told a local NBC affiliate.

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#11, Power line installer

Fatalities: 30 per 100,000 workers
Reported Injuries: 3 per 100,000 workers
Salary: $54,300

Recent tragedy: Ronald Norris was a 34-year-old utility worker in Virginia with two years of experience when a work accident ended his life just days before Thanksgiving last year. He was climbing a 300-foot pole to animal-proof a transformer when he was electrocuted and thrown from his perch. Co-workers, who saw a flash of light and heard a loud noise before spotting Norris on the ground, attempted to resuscitate him. He had a wife and two daughters. The CEO of BTS, the utility company he worked for, told the Bristol Herald Courier, "He was a very good worker—conscientious and loved his family… He was a real class man."

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#12, Police officer

Fatalities: 16 per 100,000 workers
Reported Injuries: 3 per 100,000 workers
Salary: $51,410

Recent tragedy: The night before Valentine's Day last year, Officer John Pawlowski, 25, responded to reports of a street fight in Philadelphia. Two men were arguing, with one threatening to call the police, and the other threatening to shoot him and the police—a threat he carried out by opening fire on Pawlowski and fellow officers with a .357 Magnum. The son of a retired cop, Pawlowski had worked for the force for five years and his wife was two months pregnant. Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey told the Associated Press, "I've been in policing for 40 years and have never seen anything like this before."

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#13, Firefighter

Fatalities: 7 per 100,000 workers
Reported Injuries: 6 per 100,000 workers
Salary: $45,700

Recent tragedy: The death of a firefighter in late March shook the small Illinois town of Homewood. Firefighter Brian Carey, 28, was the first firefighter killed while on the job in the more than 100-year history of the the department. Carey died while helping to put out a house fire. Homewood Fire Chief Robert Grabowski said during a news conference that he was a "very dedicated employee who truly loved being a firefighter." According to the Northwest Indiana Times, municipal and private buildings lowered flags to half-staff to honor his passing.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this caption incorrectly stated Brian Carey's home state.

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#14, Oil and gas driller

Fatalities: 24 per 100,000 workers
Reported Injuries: 1 per 100,000 workers
Salary: $37,400

Recent tragedy: Reported injuries on oil and gas rigs are rare—but when they do happen, they often end in fatality. Just last week William Ryan Lock, a worker at rig in West Texas owned by Robinson Drilling, fell from a ladder to his death. A nearby pipe burst, sending 3,000 pounds of water pressure, and Locke, careening to the ground. A safety investigation is ongoing, OSHA spokesman Michael Wald told the Midland Reporter-Telegram.

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#15, Cement manufacturer

Fatalities: 13 per 100,000 workers
Reported Injuries: 3 per 100,000 workers
Salary: $40,560

Recent tragedy: Holcim Inc. spent nearly $1 billion to build a cement plant in Missouri, which opened last year. But it took less than a year for the plant, which produces 4 million metric tons of cement yearly, to have its first fatal accident. In April, subcontractor Vincent Lavite, 38, fell off of scaffolding and died in the emergency room of a local hospital. "We wish to express our sympathy to our colleague's family and the many friends he had on this project," Holcim spokeswoman Nancy Tully told the Southeast Missourian. "We will keep all of them in our thoughts and prayers."

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#16, Taxi and limousine driver

Fatalities: 21 per 100,000 workers
Reported Injuries: 1 per 100,000 workers
Salary: $25,820

Recent tragedy: Cab drivers in the big city interact with hundreds of people every week, so they're bound to run into troublemakers. Case in point: Last August in the Bronx heat, two cab drivers were killed within the span of a week. First, driver Ndiaye Amadau was shot in the chest, then driver Jose Pena Seguira was shot in the back of the head in by a passenger in Mott Haven. "He was a good father, hard working, easy going, good husband," Seguira's wife told NBC New York.

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#17, Truck driver

Fatalities: 22 per 100,000 workers
Reported Injuries: .4 per 100,000 workers
Salary: $37,580

Recent tragedy: A horrific accident on Interstate 95 in Connecticut last month killed an 18-wheel truck driver hauling stage equipment for a Carrie Underwood concert. The driver lost control and his truck scraped a guardrail, opening a gash in the fuel tank that set the driver's cabin ablaze. Underwood dedicated her song Temporary Home to the driver. "This song has a whole new meaning for us," she said during the concert.

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#18, Construction equipment operator

Fatalities: 16 per 100,000 workers
Reported Injuries: .4 per 100,000 workers
Salary: $43,630

Recent tragedy: On a cold day last December, two bulldozer operators working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Desoto County, Alabama, were clearing debris near Coldwater River when the ground gave way. The bulldozer flipped into the water and the men were trapped inside. Days passed until their bodies were found. “Some people doing hunting called the sheriff’s department and saw what appeared to be the bulldozer in the water and tracks leading to where it turned over,” DeSoto County Sheriff Bill Rasco told the Desoto Times. Mike Drury and Shelton Thrower were 53 and 65, respectively.

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#19, Animal slaughterers

Fatalities: 2 per 100,000 workers
Reported Injuries: 1 per 100,000 workers
Salary: $27,200

Recent tragedy: While worker deaths at animal slaughterhouses are comparatively low, reported injuries can be severe and may go unreported, according to activists. At least 24 workers at Minnesota, Indiana, and Nebraska slaughterhouses developed complex neurological problems from inhaling bits of pig brain, researchers found in 2008. One slaughterhouse employee told Human Rights Watch, "I think I have an allergic reaction to hogs. But I'm afraid to say anything about this because I'm afraid they will fire me."

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#20, Security guard

Fatalities: 8 per 100,000 workers
Reported Injuries: .4 per 100,000 workers
Salary: $26,155

Recent tragedy: Stephen. T. Jones, a security guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., was caught in the crossfire last June when a crazed 88-year-old white supremacist walked in and started spraying bullets from his .22 caliber rifle. Jones, a six-year veteran of the museum, died at a local hospital. "Never take your guard force and security people for granted," William Parsons, chief of staff of the museum, told CNN. "They did exactly what they were supposed to do to protect people in the museum."