Sunday, February 2, 2014

The most dangerous jobs

Here are the occupations with the highest annual death rates in the U.S., according to government statistics. I have also included statistics for U.S. wars and a few other hazardous situations for the sake of comparison.

All U.S. jobs: 0.0035% (1 in 28,570)

Construction workers, farmers, ranchers, truck drivers and law enforcement officers: 0.02% (1 in 5,000)

Electrical power line workers and sanitation workers: 0.03% (1 in 3,333)

Iron workers and roofers: 0.04% (1 in 2,500)

U.S. soldier in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (2001–2012): 0.04% (1 in 2,500)

Pilots (most dangerous for small aircraft in Alaska): 0.05% (1 in 2,000)

U.S. soldiers in the Persian Gulf War (1990–1991): 0.08% (1 in 1,250)

Fishermen: 0.12% (1 in 833)

U.S. soldiers in the Vietnam War (1964–1975): 0.12% (1 in 833)

Loggers: 0.13% (1 in 769)

Stunt person in the 1980s (safety standards have since improved): 0.25% (1 in 400)

U.S. soldiers in World War II  (1940–1945): 0.68% (1 in 147)

U.S. soldiers in the Korean War (1950–1953): 0.92% (1 in 109)

American soldiers in the Revolutionary War (1775–1783): 1.85% (1 in 54)

U.S. soldiers in World War I  (1917–1918): 2.15% (1 in 46.5)

Death row inmates: 4% (1 in 25)

Union and Confederate soldiers in the U.S. Civil War (1861–1864): 5.65% (1 in 17.7)

Extreme wingsuit base jumpers and superheroes: 6.67% (1 in 15)

Gang members: 7% (1 in 14.3)

Slaves being transported from Africa to the New World*: 14% (1 in 7)

* Note: the annual death rate among African slaves working on plantations in the New World varied, but were probably at least this high on average if child mortality rates are included.

Obviously, there is going to be some variation within those groups: police officers on undercover assignments with the mob will have higher fatality rates than those with desk jobs, for examples.

Also, keep in mind that these are annual fatality rates. Over an extended period of time, the chance of an individual surviving decreases. For most U.S. workers, the on-the-job fatality rate is still very low. A 0.0035% annual fatality rate extended over a 30-year career ends up equaling only a 0.1% chance of death (1 in 1,000). For the next highest risk group (construction workers, farmers, ranchers, truck drivers and law enforcement officers), the extrapolated fatality rate over a 30-year career is 0.6% (1 in 167).

However, at the other end of the spectrum, the differences add up quickly. If you look at the career of a superhero, for example, you can see that they have a dramatically high fatality rate within a career of even a few years. Not including those who quit while they're ahead, only three quarters of them survive to fight crime for four years, and fully half of them will perish before they see ten years.

Survival rate after one year: 93.3%

Survival rate after two years: 87.1%

Survival rate after three years: 81.3%

Survival rate after four years: 75.9%

Survival rate after five years: 70.8%

Survival rate after six years: 66.1%

Survival rate after seven years: 61.7%

Survival rate after eight years: 57.6%

Survival rate after nine years: 53.7%

Survival rate after 10 years: 50.2%

Survival rate after 11 years: 46.8%

Survival rate after 12 years: 43.7%

Survival rate after 13 years: 40.8%

Survival rate after 14 years: 38.1%

Survival rate after 15 years: 35.5%

Survival rate after 16 years: 33.2%

Survival rate after 17 years: 30.1%

Survival rate after 18 years: 28.9%

Survival rate after 19 years: 27.0%

Survival rate after 20 years: 25.2%

Amazingly, Superman debuted as a superhero in 1938 and remained active in that role most of that time until his death in the line of duty in 1992. On paper, the odds of surviving 54 years as a superhero were only 2.4%. Even for a nigh-invulnerable alien, that was a pretty impressive run.

The original Batman, of course, wasn’t as lucky, dying in 1956 after 17 years under the cowl. Still mighty impressive for a costumed vigilante with no superpowers, though.

Here are a few other superheroes who were killed in the line of duty. Note that these are only a handful of examples. These days, there are approximately 200-400 superheroes and supervillains active at any given time (depending on your definition) and approximately 30-60 fatalities from that group per year on average.

  • Wonder Man (Fred Carson, d. 1939 after a career of only a few weeks)
  • Lobster Johnson (real name unknown, d. 1939 after seven years)
  • The Comet (John Dickering, d. 1941 after a year and a half)
  • Wing (Wing How, d. 1945 after seven years)
  • Captain America II (William Naslund, d. 1946 after one year)
  • Marvel Girl / Phoenix (Jean Grey, d. 1980 after 17 years)
  • Captain America I (Steve Rogers, d. 2007 after approximately 50 active years, not including years spent in suspended animation)

(P.S. – All pretenses aside, this was totally just another article about superheroes. The statistics are real, though, and are based on 2012 figures from the U.S. Department of Labor.)