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Which types of jobs are most dangerous?

When most people think of dangerous jobs, they picture physically demanding work with a perceived high rate of accidents such as construction and forestry jobs, or public service positions such as firefighting and police work. However, serious and debilitating workplace injuries can take place even in seemingly sedate environments such as offices and manufacturing plants.

Distribution of nonfatal injury cases
Distribution of nonfatal injury cases with days away from work and nonfatal injury plus illness cases by private industry sector, 20011.

As shown in this 2004 NIOSH chart dealing with workplace injury, construction and manufacturing are actually at par with each other when it comes to injuries serious enough to take employees off the job. Perhaps most surprising to the casual observer is that retail and services industries see a much higher number of injuries than any other trade.

Number and rate of nonfatal occupational injuries
Number and rate of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses in private industry by industry, 20012.

From the perspective of injuries per 100 workers, a slightly different picture emerges. While the number of people employed in services and retail naturally inflates the reported number of injuries, it is easy to see that manufacturing and construction both have higher incidences of risk for injury on a per capita basis. From a worker health perspective, jobs in these industries are the most dangerous out there.

Number and rate of total nonfatal occupational injuries
Number and rate of total nonfatal occupational injuries in private-industry sectors with at least 100,000 cases, 20013.

Further breaking down the figures shows that workers who are required to perform either repetitive physical tasks such as baggage handlers at the airport suffer from a very high rate of injury. Couriers who must frequently engage in lifting awkwardly-sized packages or health-care workers charged with wrangling immobile patients are also frequently victims of serious injury. This type of injury, caused by either improper lifting or repetitive motion is classified under the heading of musculoskeletal disorders.

Distribution of MSD cases
Distribution of MSD cases and all nonfatal injury and illness cases involving days away from work in private industry by occupation, 20014.

Musculoskeletal disorders are the most common work-related injuries in the United States. They are most frequently caused by requiring the body to repeatedly engage in unnatural physical tasks over the course of a shift. This can include anything from using a computer keyboard and mouse to picking orders off of an assembly line or loading a truck with boxes filled with merchandise5.

Distribution of MSD cases
Distribution of MSD cases and all nonfatal injury and illness cases involving days away from work in private industry by industry, 20016.

In the face of such alarming statistics regarding the prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders, the need for companies to focus on workplace ergonomics is clear. Employees can take an active role in helping to make their workplace safer by paying close attention to their work routine in order to determine if there are any aspects of their duties which could be made safer. In the two most affected sectors, manufacturing and construction, this can include the use of special tools, mechanical lifting assistance5, workstations which are arranged at the proper height for each individual worker, and training in the safest methods for performing specific tasks.

1 NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 23, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid33.htm
2NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 23, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid14.htm
3NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 23, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid15.htm
4NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 23, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid85.htm
5Cal/OSHA Consultation Service, Reach and Education Unit, Division of Occupational Safety and Health, California Department of Industrial Relations 2007, Ergonomic Guidelines for Manual Material Handling. Retrieved October 23, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2007-131/pdfs/2007-131.pdf
6NIOSH 2004. Worker Health Chartbook 2004, NIOSH Publication No. 2004-146. Retrieved October 23, 2008 from http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2004-146/detail/imagedetail.asp@imgid86.htm

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