Everyone has their own idea of the world’s most dangerous job, and it’s probably based on your personal experience. For me, I’d say it would have to be a Marine Corps rifleman downrange in the combat zone, or maybe an airplane handler on the deck of an underway aircraft carrier launching planes, or even trying to ride some red-eyed Brahman bull whose goal in his short life is to break all your bones and stomp your head into the ground. On ships, the dangerous locations, like moving gun mounts or torpedo racks, are conveniently labeled “Man Killer.” That was back in my day; in today’s gender conscious world, where about one-third of every Navy ship’s crew is female, they must be labeled “Person Killer.” Regarding the most dangerous jobs, helpfully, the government has figured it out for us, and the results might surprise you.
According to a 2020 study based on data provided by the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, here are the 8 most dangerous jobs in the 263 total professions covered by the data. Professions are ranked from the most to least dangerous and must have at least 50,000 workers to be included.
1. Commercial Fishermen. Fatal Injury Rate (FIR): 132.1 per 100,000 workers. Say a prayer of thanks the next time you open that can of tuna.
2. Logging. 33 times more dangerous than the average job nationwide. (FIR): 111 per 100,000 workers. I hate to even sit alongside a loaded log truck at a red light.
3. Roofer. FIR: 47.0 per 100,000. Between falls, wind, nail guns, electric shock, and sun stroke, this is one of the most dangerous jobs out there. Pay them well.
4. Construction Workers. FIR: 43.3 per 100,000 workers. With the price of building materials these days, the biggest threat is probably crooks stealing the supplies.
5. Aircraft Pilots and Flight Engineers. FIR: 34.3 per 100,000. Most aircraft fatalities occurred in crashes of privately owned planes and helicopters. Personally, I’ve given up flying. I’ve had so many close calls over the years that I figure my luck has run out. Also, I’m a very religious person, and Jesus, Himself, said “Low,” I am with you always.” (Or was it “Lo?”). Anyway, I would love to go to Hawaii one more time, but I’m waiting for the train.
6. Sanitation Workers. FIR: 33.1 per 100,000. Although this ranking might surprise you, sanitation workers must interact with dangerous chemicals and other hazardous waste, and deal with heavy machinery designed to compress trash or other materials. It turns out, however, that the biggest threat is being hit by other drivers on the road as they carry out their duties.
7. Iron and Steel Workers. 32.5 FIR per 100,000. Wear that hard hat!
8. Truckers and Deliverymen. 25.8 FIR per 100,000. I’m not sure that I believe this because I read a competing 2021 study which said that truck driving was the most dangerous job in the United States last year. Did you see the advertisement where Walmart is paying $118,000 per year, up from $100,000, for beginning truck drivers? Who needs college?
Obviously, if you want to live longer, stay away from the above jobs. Once I would have recommended something cerebral, like school teaching, but not with 34 school shootings alone in 2021. We might call them “Safety Officers” at our local schools, but as far as I’m concerned, they are armed guards and I’m thankful they are there. Retail also might once have been a viable option, but now the crazies are shooting up the malls and the mom-and-pop stores. It’s not even safe to be a minister anymore, what with all the tragic church shootings; however, I will say that I feel sorry for the intruder who decides to invade my church. I think half the congregation is packing some heavy heat. People are even beating up volunteer and underpaid softball and baseball umpires. I’m too old to tell you what to do; but if I were younger, I’d say move off the grid, work from home, get some mean dogs, and arm up.
If you are like me, you are looking at the above list of jobs and thinking something like: “Whoa! - figures lie, and liars figure.” I don’t doubt those occupations are dangerous, but where are the law enforcement officers? I heard on the news the other night that an average of one certified law enforcement officer died in the line of duty every day last year. According to some studies, a policeman’s profession is 4 times as dangerous as the average job. Where are the “smoke jumpers,” those slightly off-center men and women who parachute into raging forest fires out west to save whole towns? They must be on somebody’s list. What about tree trimmers? Did you ever watch one of those guys scale a tall tree, often rotten, with a massive chain saw hanging from their belt, and cut it into sections from the top down? What about electrical linemen and women – the people who bring the juice? Can you imagine climbing a wet pole, on the darkest night, with lightning popping, in a howling rainstorm, splicing wires sparking with megavolts back together just so some pilgrim down the line can get his or her Netflix? Call me tomorrow.
As far as that goes, my next-door neighbor spent a long career as an underwater welder in the offshore oil fields. I remember reading somewhere that, between the Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea, the yearly fatality rate for this profession is around 15%. Besides electricity and water not mixing very well, underwater welders must deal with rough water conditions, explosions, strong currents, underwater obstacles, poor visibility, and surges in wave movement. There’s also something called “Differential Pressure (Delta P) which causes many underwater accidents. This happens when water moves from a high pressure to a lower pressure area and creates a suction that can injure the welder. You’ve probably experienced it yourself, on a much smaller scale, when the drain in a swimming pool almost sucked off your swimsuit.
While the above jobs are food for thought, I would submit that the most dangerous job in the country is one that you might not have thought about – the highest job in the land – that of President of the United States. Do the math: counting the incumbent, we have had a total of 46 individuals fill the office. Of these, 4 (Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy) have been assassinated. That works out to almost 9% (8.695). If 100,000 individuals had held the office, and the percentage (9) had increased proportionally, the Fatal Injury Rate would be out of the ballpark. However, and I would be remiss if I didn’t note this in passing, there has long been a persistent rumor that, because of his sudden death, President Warren G. Harding was poisoned by his wife in 1923 because she was fed up with his serial philandering. No one will ever know because she had his body embalmed within one hour of his death, some say to erase all evidence of the poison. If true, that would make 5 Presidents who have met violent ends.
I happen to know that we have one faithful reader of this newspaper, in Purvis, who was in the Secret Service and served a tour guarding the President. Ironically, this practice did not start until after President Garfield was shot in 1881 by Charles Guiteau, a deranged and disgruntled office seeker. Card-carrying crazy but convinced he should be appointed as U.S. Consul to either Vienna or Paris, his subsequent trial for Garfield’s murder is notable in legal annals as one of the first times insanity was used as a defense. It didn’t work, however, and Guiteau famously danced to the hangman’s noose reciting a poem he had written entitled “I Am Going to the Lordy.” In an earlier saner moment, however, he did say something that was probably true. He said, “I just shot the president; the doctors killed him.” Garfield had lived in great pain for 80 days and died of infection brought on by unskilled doctors who probed unsuccessfully for the bullet lodged near his spine with dirty, germ infested fingers. Some Civil Service and political patronage reform did result from this unfortunate incident, however.
While I’ve met three presidents, I’ve only shared the podium with one, and that was Ronald Reagan. He was the speaker at the recommissioning of a ship that I was on back in 1982 in Long Beach, California. This was about one year after John Hinckley, Jr., had attempted to assassinate Mr. Reagan in order to impress the actress Jodie Foster. This was also when the wounded President, as he was being wheeled into the operating room, made the famous quip to his wife, Nancy: “I hope the doctors are all Republicans.”
As you can imagine, the security that day was super tight – a mouse couldn’t have run down the pier undetected. The program called for me to meet the President as he came aboard the ship and to escort him to his seat. At the dress rehearsal the night before, the Secret Service representatives had told us, the official party, without cracking a smile, not to make any sudden moves the next day, or the snipers on the adjacent warehouse buildings on the pier would probably shoot us. I was scared to death, as I could see myself tripping on the red carpet and turning my wife into a widow and my children into fatherless waifs. Fortunately, I pulled myself together and eventually received a signed picture of thanks from the President, which I’m sure he never saw. I understand that Hinckley now has his own YouTube channel for his prison art and music, and that he is scheduled to receive his unconditional release this coming June. When I was later stationed at the Pentagon, I drove by St. Elizabeth’s Hospital where he was locked up on my way to work every day, and I wondered if he was still loving Jodie. Personally, I’ve seen enough guns and killing to last me a lifetime and beyond.
Next time, perhaps I’ll write about the many unsuccessful attempts, often comical and sometimes tragic, on the President’s life. For example, in 1835, an unemployed house painter fired two pistols at Andrew Jackson, missing both times. For his trouble, Jackson beat his assailant severely about the head and shoulders with his cane. The Soviet NKVD claimed to have exposed a German Nazi Waffen-SS plot to assassinate President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Teran Conference in 1943; in 1947, the Israeli Zionist “Stern Gang” apparently sent several letter bombs to President Harry Truman during the Jewish insurgency in Palestine before the formation of the State of Israel; and in 1974 an unhinged individual planned to kill Richard Nixon by hijacking a DC-9 airplane at Baltimore International Airport in Maryland and crashing it into the White House. Not quite thinking through his plan, however, he shot both pilots before takeoff, killing one, and then demanded that a woman passenger fly the plane. Luckily, but not for him, he was shot and killed by a police officer before she had to attempt the flight. Finally, in 1975, President Gerald Ford was attacked by none other than Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, a devoted follower of the infamous Charles Manson. On a political junket to California, Ford reached out to shake Fromme’s hand, and she presented her 45-caliber pistol instead. Although the gun had four bullets in the magazine, she had neglected to load one into the firing chamber and Ford was saved. She was led off to prison mumbling something about “saving the trees.” Wouldn’t you like to be President? It’s up for grabs in two years – plenty of time for you to start raising money. Until then.
Light a candle for me.
Benny Hornsby of Oak Grove is a retired U.S. Navy captain. Visit his website, bennyhornsby.com, or email him: firstname.lastname@example.org.