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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Stacy Rapacon, Online Editor
| January 5, 2019
If “danger” is your middle name, why not add it to your resume? Taking on greater risk at work can lead to greater rewards. Such is the case for the following dozen jobs, which all endure high rates of work-related injuries and illnesses and also pay more (often much more) than the national median of $43,992 a year.
They’re probably not the jobs you’d expect. Your mind might go straight to reality TV shows such as “Deadliest Catch” and “Ax Men.” Fishing and logging are indeed life-threatening: 41 fishers and 55 loggers died on the job in 2017, especially high counts considering the total number of these workers are just 24,509 and 48,804, respectively, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Compare those figures with an overall fatality rate of just 3.5 deaths per 100,000 workers in the U.S. But with the fields shrinking and offering relatively low compensation (with median earnings between $33,000 and $39,500), those dangerous jobs are hardly worth the risk.
To identify the best high-risk job opportunities, we worked the numbers for you. Focusing on fields that are collecting generous paychecks now and are projected to expand greatly over the next decade, we ranked 773 popular occupations to see which ones offer the most promising futures. We also favored occupations with lower typical education requirements, allowing for lower investments of time and money. Finally, we scoured the top of our rankings for positions that face on-the-job injury and illness rates higher than that of all jobs in the U.S. Take a look at the best jobs for all you risk-takers.
All data for work-related injuries, illnesses and fatalities was provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for 2017. Incidence rates refer to reports of injuries and illnesses that resulted in days away from work. Unless otherwise noted, all other employment data was provided by Emsi, a labor-market research firm owned by Strada Education. Emsi collects data from dozens of federal, state and private sources, including reports from the BLS and surveys from the U.S. Census Bureau. The total number of jobs listed for each occupation is for 2017. Projected 10-year job growth figures represent the percentage change in the total number of jobs in an occupation between 2017 and 2027. Annual earnings were calculated by multiplying median hourly earnings by 2,080, the standard number of hours worked in a year by a full-time employee. Jobs are ordered, based on our scoring methodology, from first to 12th.
Total Number of Jobs: 371,020
Projected Job Growth, 2017-2027: 21.0% (All jobs: 9.7%)
Median Annual Salary: $96,517 (All Jobs: $43,992)
Typical Education Required: Bachelor's degree
Rate of Injuries/Illnesses: 134.5 per 10,000 workers (All Jobs: 89.4)
2017 Work-Related Fatalities: 3
Perhaps medical dramas such as “ER” and “Chicago Med” aren’t so far fetched after all. Health services managers sustain injuries resulting from violence at unusually high rates—29 per 10,000 workers compared with just 4 per 10,000 workers for all jobs. And the majority of such injuries are caused intentionally by other people. The vast majority of such violence in health care is perpetrated by unruly patients, according to the the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and most frequently occur in emergency, geriatric and behavioral health departments in hospitals. These workers also manage particularly high-risk facilities, such as prison hospitals and rehabilitation centers. Then again, far more health services managers tend to get hurt falling, at a rate of 49.9 per 10,000 workers compared with 23.1 per 10,000 workers for all jobs. So maybe real life is more “Scrubs” than “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Either way, future prospects for this profession are on the rise. The increasing demand for medical services calls for more people to manage them. Health services managers may oversee the functions of an entire medical practice or facility—as a nursing home administrator, for example—or a specific department, as a clinical manager for, say, surgery or physical therapy. Health information managers work specifically on maintaining patient records and keeping them secure, an especially important task as everyone is shifting to digital.
A bachelor's in health administration is the ticket to this profession, but a master's in health services, long-term-care administration or public health is also common among these workers. You may need to be licensed to run certain types of facilities, such as a nursing home, for which all states require licensure, or an assisted-living facility. Check with your state's department of health for details.
Total Number of Jobs: 3.0 million
Projected Job Growth, 2017-2027: 16.3%
Median Annual Salary: $69,789
Typical Education Required: Bachelor’s degree
Rate of Injuries/Illnesses: 107.8 per 10,000 workers
2017 Work-Related Fatalities: 14
No good deed goes uninjured. Registered nurses endured a whopping 20,730 work-related injuries and illnesses in 2017. And supporting the notion that these health care pros go above and beyond for their jobs, a majority of those incidents were caused by overexertion: 45.5 per 10,000 RNs reported injuries and illnesses due to overexertion compared with 30 per 10,000 workers for all jobs.
On the bright side, the outlook for RNs’ career prospects is healthy. This already robust workforce—the fifth-largest of all occupations—is expected to add nearly a half-million new positions by 2027. Advancing technology, greater focus on preventive care and an aging population will mean a growing number of patients requiring care in hospitals, doctors' offices, long-term-care facilities and even private homes.
Becoming a registered nurse requires either a bachelor's of science in nursing, an associate's degree in nursing or a diploma from an accredited nursing program (which usually takes two to three years). You'll need a license to practice, as well, not to mention reserves of compassion, patience and emotional stability.
Total Number of Jobs: 117,960
Projected Job Growth, 2017-2027: 16.7%
Median Annual Salary: $69,040
Typical Education Required: High school diploma
Rate of Injuries/Illnesses: 173.2 per 10,000 workers
2017 Work-Related Fatalities: 26
Working with electrical currents at great heights means this job is as risky as you'd expect it to be. More shocking: While injuries caused by falls to a lower level is understandably higher than average for electrical power-line installers (42.7 per 10,000 workers), even more harmful is overexertion, the reported cause of injuries and illness to every 62.2 per 10,000 of these workers.
If you’re willing to climb such high and risky heights, the job’s prospects at least offer a solid future. The American population is growing, and cities are expanding—and that means new housing developments and office parks, which require new power grids, which require more people to install and maintain them.
Many electrical power-line installers and repairers get started with an apprenticeship after high school, which typically lasts up to three years. It combines on-the-job training with technical instruction. You may also be able to get a one-year certificate from a community college or a two-year associate's degree to get a deeper understanding of the technology used in electrical utilities.
Total Number of Jobs: 80,712
Projected Job Growth, 2017-2027: 18.5%
Median Annual Salary: $87,199
Typical Education Required: Doctoral degree
Rate of Injuries/Illnesses: 103.9 per 10,000 workers
2017 Work-Related Fatalities: 4
Americans are increasingly becoming pet owners and spending more on their furry (and scaly, slimy and feathery) family members. In fact, 68% of U.S. households, or 84.6 million homes, own a pet, according to a 2017-18 survey from the American Pet Products Association (APPA). That’s up from 56% of U.S. households in 1988, the first year of the APPA National Pet Owners Survey. And spending on pets is expected to rise to $72.1 billion in 2018 from $69.5 billion in 2017 and $43.2 billion just ten years ago.
The veterinary services industry is an obvious beneficiary. But more pet patients means more opportunities for them to injure veterinarians. Indeed, animal violence is the cause of 20.6% of all workplace injuries and illnesses of vets, compared with 1.2% of incidents for all jobs. Even worse, the top cause of injury among veterinarians is actually being “struck by object or equipment,” reported for 47.6% of cases—far greater than 15.5% for all jobs.
If your love trumps your fear of animals and injury, to become a veterinarian, you must earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, which typically takes four years after getting a bachelor’s degree. Expect to take many science classes, including biology, zoology and animal science, as well math, humanities and social science courses. You must also be licensed to practice in the U.S.; requirements vary by state.
Total Number of Jobs: 332,030
Projected Job Growth, 2017-2027: 14.7%
Median Annual Salary: $62,766
Typical Education Required: Associate’s degree
Rate of Injuries/Illnesses: 94.5 per 10,000 workers
2017 Work-Related Fatalities: n/a
These workers collect and analyze samples of bodily fluids, tissues and other substances, which may be infectious or otherwise harmful. Indeed, clinical lab techs report injuries and illnesses caused by exposure to harmful substances at a rate significantly higher than average. Cup half full: That still equates to a total of just 140 such incidents in 2017. More common causes of injury for these workers are overexertion and falls, reported for a combined total of 1,460 cases, or 67.6% of all injuries for clinical lab techs.
If you can rise to the challenge of this job, the growth prospects are good, encouraged by the growing needs of an aging population. To become a technologist, you typically need a bachelor’s degree; technicians can usually get started with an associate’s degree. Either way, expect to study plenty of math and science. Both roles also may require certification and licensure, depending on your state laws or prospective employers’ preferences. You can learn more from the National Accrediting Agency for Laboratory Personnel.
Total Number of Jobs: 42,554
Projected Job Growth, 2017-2027: 29.0%
Median Annual Salary: $59,301
Rate of Injuries/Illnesses: 103 per 10,000 workers
Helping other people learn to function independently can often be quite debilitating. Occupational therapists, along with their assistants, help ill or disabled patients develop or recover the ability to perform daily tasks, such as dressing or feeding themselves. (Physical therapists perform similar work, but focus on rehabilitation of major motor functions.) And while therapists are also prone to injury, at a rate of 81.3 per 10,000 workers, assistants seem to bear the brunt of it—literally. The majority of their injuries are caused by overexertion, mainly when lifting patients, and tend to result in sprains, strains, tears and soreness.
The effort may be well worth it. With the aging population boosting demand for rehabilitative services, the need for occupational therapist assistants is expected to grow rapidly. Occupational therapists may look to work with more of them in order care for more patients in the same amount of time at minimal cost. To fill that need, you first typically need an associate’s degree from an accredited program, which usually takes two years to complete and are commonly offered by community colleges and technical schools. Most states also require these workers to be licensed.
Total Number of Jobs: 496,031
Projected Job Growth, 2017-2027: 16.8%
Median Annual Salary: $49,347
Typical Education Required: High school diploma or equivalent
Rate of Injuries/Illnesses: 128.7 per 10,000 workers
2017 Work-Related Fatalities: 39
New buildings come with plenty of new pipes, and all those drains lead to an ocean of opportunities for plumbers. Pipefitters and steamfitters (who are lumped in with plumbers for data collection purposes) specialize in systems that carry acids, chemicals and gases. The already-large pool of workers is expected to add more than 83,500 new positions over the next decade. Regular maintenance needs and remodeling projects, including those necessary to meet stricter water-efficiency standards, also give plumbers a steady flow of business.
Unfortunately, all that physical labor also lends itself to plenty of injuries. Common ailments include cuts from sharp tools, burns from hot pipes and falls from ladders.
You can dive into the work straight out of high school with a four- or five-year paid apprenticeship, in which you'll typically earn 30% to 50% of what fully trained plumbers make. As your vocational training advances, your wages will grow, too. Once your apprenticeship is complete, you'll be considered a journey worker and be able to do some tasks on your own. After you gain more experience, you can become a master plumber and work independently, which requires a license in most states.
Total Number of Jobs: 122,346
Projected Job Growth, 2017-2027: 13.8%
Median Annual Salary: $50,500
Rate of Injuries/Illnesses: 522.6 per 10,000 workers
These workers do much more than serve in-flight drinks and snacks—and they’ve got the injuries to prove it. Flight attendants are responsible for conducting pre-flight inspections of emergency equipment, working with pilots to discuss cabin conditions and flight details and caring for passengers, especially those with special needs, including providing and coordinating emergency medical care when necessary. This work causes injuries at far higher rates than the average job for reasons across the board—being struck by and against objects and equipment; falls, slip and trips; overexertion; and of course, in transportation incidents. Plus side: Only 0.6% of all injuries to flight attendants are caused by violence, compared with 4.5% of incidents for all workers. So at least you don’t really have to worry about disgruntled passengers resorting to fisticuffs.
If you don’t mind braving the accident-prone skies, to become a flight attendant, you must have at least a high school diploma or the equivalent, but some college or a bachelor’s degree can give you a leg up on the competition. You also need one or two years of experience working in customer service. Once you land a job, your airline provides three to six weeks of initial training, after which you must pass an exam to become certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. You must also get recurrent training every year to maintain your certification and get new training for each type of aircraft you work on.
Total Number of Jobs: 489,048
Projected Job Growth, 2017-2027: 9.2%
Median Annual Salary: $64,593
Rate of Injuries/Illnesses: 92.1 per 10,000 workers
2017 Work-Related Fatalities: 35
These workers directly supervise and manage mechanics, installers and repairers in a range of industries across the country. The majority work in the automotive industry. Not coincidentally, they sustain particularly high rates of injuries caused by roadway incidents involving motorized land vehicles—at 7.9 per 10,000 workers compared with 3.1 per 10,000 workers for all jobs. But they can also find opportunities for higher earnings in natural gas distribution, electric power generation and petroleum manufacturing, where average wages for this occupation top $90,000 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. No matter the industry, first-line supervisors run a high risk of injury as they roam busy factory floors and production facilities: About a third of injuries reported by these workers are caused by unfortunate contact with objects and equipment.
On top of a high school diploma, you typically need a couple of years of work experience to reach supervisor ranks. And to get started in certain fields, you may benefit from doing a postsecondary education program first. For example, automotive service technicians and mechanics typically complete a vocational or other postsecondary education program in automotive service technology, which usually takes six months to a year.
Total Number of Jobs: 353,586
Projected Job Growth, 2017-2027: 15.2%
Median Annual Salary: $44,704
Typical Education Required: Postsecondary nondegree award
Rate of Injuries/Illnesses: 278.1 per 10,000 workers
2017 Work-Related Fatalities: 24
The need for people to stay warm in winter and cool in summer drives demand for these workers all year round, regardless of the state of the economy. (New construction of both commercial and residential buildings can also boost employment growth for HVACR technicians—or dampen it, depending on the real estate market.) Plus, the technological advances of climate-control systems, as well as a growing focus on energy efficiency, also helps increase the need for qualified professionals who know how to keep them working.
To get started, many HVACR techs complete six-month postsecondary programs in heating, air conditioning and refrigeration at technical and trade schools or community colleges. Some two-year programs even lead to an associate’s degree. New technicians likely learn on the job while working with more experienced pros. They might also get their training through apprenticeship programs, which usually last three to five years and are sponsored by unions and contractor associations. Apprentices typically earn about half what experienced workers make, and their pay increases with their knowledge and skill. You may also need certain certifications to comply with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules, as well as your state and locality regulations.
Part of the training requires these technicians to learn much-needed safety practices, as the job requires challenging physical labor and handling of hazardous refrigerants. Despite the preparation, HVACR techs are still prone to high rates of injury, particularly electrical shock, burns and muscle strains.
Total Number of Jobs: 25,847
Projected Job Growth, 2017-2027: 15.1%
Median Annual Salary: $79,477
Rate of Injuries/Illnesses: 163.9 per 10,000 workers
Going up? Job prospects for elevator installers and repairers certainly are. Construction of new office buildings, stores and other nonresidential projects has gradually risen as the economy has improved and lifted demand for elevators and the people who work on them. The aging population may also add to the need for stair lifts and elevators in both homes and nonresidential buildings.
People might be deterred by the job's level of danger and physical demands, as well as its high-stress nature. If it’s any comfort, this job actually comes with a lower incidence rate of falls: 20.9 per 10,000 workers compared with 23.1 per 10,000 workers for all jobs. Less comforting: You are far more likely in this job to get struck by an object, its top cause of injury reported at a rate of 120.9 per 10,000 workers compared with just 13.8 per 10,000 workers for all jobs. The rate of (gulp) being “caught in or compressed by object or equipment” is also high for these workers, but equates to a total of just 30 injuries reported in 2017 for this cause.
The happy few who brave this work enjoy high median pay. If you want to join their ranks, you can start learning the trade right after high school through a four-year paid apprenticeship, sponsored by unions, industry associations and individual contractors. Also, 35 states currently require elevator installers and repairers to be licensed; you can find out more through the National Association of Elevator Contractors.
Total Number of Jobs: 737,807
Projected Job Growth, 2017-2027: 14.6%
Median Annual Salary: $44,838
Rate of Injuries/Illnesses: 99.4 per 10,000 workers
Like registered nurses (another dangerous job worth the risk), as a licensed practical and vocational nurse (LPN), you get to provide patients with basic care and also reap the benefits of increasing opportunities brought on by an aging population and advancing technology. But you can do so with lower rates of injury and illness than RNs, as well as a smaller investment of time and education costs to become one. The tradeoff is a lower median salary—a typical RN earns $25,000 a year more than a typical LPN.
Still, if you’re hoping to land a great job without a college degree, this is an attractive entry point into the hot health-care labor market. LPN training programs can be found across the country at vocational schools, community colleges and some high schools and hospitals. You just need a high school diploma or the equivalent to get into such programs; some may also require you to pass an entrance exam.