A threat to life and serious injuries are a risk many won’t even entertain when applying for a job. However, there are many roles in the world that are not only dangerous but deadly too.
To look further into this topic, we have analysed all civilian roles in the UK and U.S. that are considered dangerous, reviewing a range of factors including physical injuries, long-term illnesses, chemical and biological risk, mental health problems, environmental factors, and more to calculate the most dangerous jobs out there.
In addition to this, we’ve compared the risk to the average salary and hours worked to understand the price many are placing on their lives.
- Being a paramedic is the most dangerous job role in the UK, with 2,993 attacks by patients reported on average each year.
- The role of a deckhand on a fishing boat is America’s most dangerous job, with 33% of fatalities seeing people drown overboard.
- Working as a firefighter is the UK’s second most dangerous job, dealing with fires, collapsing buildings, a high risk of asthma, and 60.2% report living with mental health problems.
- Commercial sea divers are the second most dangerous job in the U.S. and often suffer from poor lung function and impaired neuropsychological performance over time.
- In the UK, a civil engineer has the best ratio of compensation compared to danger earning an average salary of £50,000 per year but is still exposed to risks such as collapsing buildings and being hit by machinery.
- In the U.S. the risks of a surgeon are most offset by the compensation of an average salary of $299,310 but they are exposed to dangers such as blood-borne pathogens, long working hours, and a high-stress environment.
Most dangerous jobs in the UK
Considering all the previously mentioned factors, the most dangerous job in the UK was found to be a paramedic. You can see the full breakdown of 32 jobs in the table below.
|Rank||Job Title||Average Salary (£)||Weekly Hours Worked||Job Danger Score (max. 35)|
|3||Oil Platform Worker||£40,000||54||15.06|
|13||Mental Health Carer||£35,746||42||11.17|
|24||Chemical Plant Process Operator||£27,500||42||7.02|
|28||Large Animal Vet||£40,000||42.5||6.1|
|29||Water Treatment Worker||£24,500||43||5.96|
Paramedics are the people responsible for rushing to all kinds of dangerous scenes to try and save lives every day. Seeing patients puts them at risk of various diseases, impairment to their immune systems and severe hormone secretion fluctuations due to the stressful nature of the job. In addition to physical risks, paramedics scored highly for mental health risks.
NHS data showed that paramedics taking time off for mental health conditions has rocketed 186% since 2011. Fortunately, the death rate of these key workers is very low, but they can expect to face a host of injuries, with an average of 2,993 attacks reported every year on ambulance staff by patients.
After paramedics, firefighters were found to have the second most dangerous job in the UK. Fortunately, firefighters have a very low death rate, with an average of two firefighters dying in England each year since 1986, and an average of 3.75 per year in Scotland.
Aside from the obvious risks of fire and collapsing buildings, they are at risk of hearing problems due to loud noises, studies also report the occupation has a higher risk of asthma, and one piece of research found that 60.2% of fire service staff had mental health problems, with ‘traumatic or distressing events’ being the second biggest contributing factor to this.
3. Oil Platform Workers
Making up the top three most dangerous jobs in the UK, oil rig workers (referred to as Offshore drilling workers by the UK Government) scored 15.06 in our danger score index. According to the National Careers Service, these employees work an average of 54 hours a week, the highest average working week out of any job in this analysis, with a median average salary of £40,000.
Oil rig workers are naturally at risk of the dangers of the ocean being hundreds of miles off the coast, but they also had one of the highest injury rates (6.02%) in our analysis, with slips, trips, fractures and sprains being the most common problems. Some industry studies into oil rig workers have also found that hand trauma is extremely common.
In terms of long-term illnesses, one 2021 UN study found that petrol/oil workers had an increased risk of skin, blood, prostate, urinary, and mesothelioma cancers, while various studies highlight the mental health risks of severe stress and isolation working on oil platforms.
Most dangerous jobs in the U.S.
To provide a global comparison and dig into the world of dangerous careers further, the study also analysed risky careers in the U.S. And in America, the most dangerous job was found to be a deckhand on a commercial fishing boat. See the full list of dangerous careers in the U.S. in the table below:
|Rank||Job Title||Average Salary ($)||Weekly Hours Worked||Job Danger Score|
|2||Sea Diver||$ 49,980||43||17.39|
|3||Scaffold Contractor||$ 48,977||44||17.36|
|5||Truck driver||$ 77,404||45||15.7|
|7||Roofing Contractor||$ 47,027||35||14.07|
|10||Sewer Flusher||$ 52,891||43||11.82|
|11||Police Officer||$ 52,913||40||11.71|
|15||Garbage Collector||$ 37,917||39||10.44|
|16||Oil Rig Worker||$ 75,511||54||10.39|
|17||Taxi Driver||$ 39,364||42||10.28|
|18||Door Staff||$ 33,216||38||10.09|
|19||Crane Operator||$ 53,241||41||10.09|
|20||Demolition Worker||$ 31,722||44||9.83|
|22||Mental Health Caregiver||$ 32,637||42||9.17|
|23||Correctional Officer||$ 33,251||39||9.05|
|24||Chemical Plant Operator||$ 44,116||42||8.56|
|25||Forklift Operator||$ 38,245||45||8.51|
|26||Industrial Cleaner||$ 31,241||40||8|
|27||Water Treatment Worker||$ 43,056||43||7.59|
|32||Civil Engineer||$ 84,295||41||4.7|
1. Deckhands (fishing boats)
The Bureau of Labor Statistics describes deckhands as dealing with “some of the most hazardous conditions in the workforce”. This job is extremely dangerous, with one bad storm in the ocean capable of quickly creating a deadly work environment.
Accounting for an average of 53 deaths per year, one study from the Journal of Industrial Medicine found that on U.S. fishing boats, deckhands are far more likely to die than any other occupation on board, with 36% of fatalities seeing workers falling overboard. Studies report many deckhands are often inexperienced which leads to many injuries, including slips, falls, broken bones, and even loss of limbs when caught in machinery or ropes.
When considering longer-term health impacts, studies show that deckhands are disproportionately affected by skin cancer, and one in six report living with anxiety and depression.
2. Commercial Sea Divers
After deckhands, the second most dangerous job in America was found to be commercial sea divers. On average, these employees will be paid a salary of $49,980 and work for around 43 hours a week.
Commercial sea divers face many risks within the role, such as extreme weather conditions, chemical exposure, loss of consciousness underwater, and many other risks associated when working underwater.
In terms of long-term health problems, studies show that commercial divers are at a very high risk of poor lung function over their lives. A study reviewing divers over a 30-year period found it was common for divers to have hearing loss, joint, and back pain. A separate study followed commercial divers for over a decade and found that they were also more likely to have “modest impairment” in neuropsychological performance, which was coupled with memory loss and trouble concentrating.
3. Scaffolding Contractor
Scaffolding contractors were found to be the third most dangerous job in America, and the most dangerous job on land. The largest risk for scaffolders is naturally falling from height, but they also have to deal with building instability, machinery dangers, and poor weather conditions creating slippery surfaces and unsafe conditions.
In fact, statistics from the BLS show that falls from scaffolding account for a quarter (25%) of falls in the workplace, and scaffolding is responsible for around 4,500 injuries every year, and an average of 60 fatalities.
In terms of long-term issues, studies show that scaffolding contractors face chronic lower back pain, various upper limb disorders, as well as issues common in construction site workers such as respiratory, skin, and hearing problems.
With regard to their mental health, scaffolding contractors face the same problems that many construction industry pros face. According to the CDC, the construction industry has the highest rate of suicides out of all occupational groups in America. The data does not offer information on scaffolding contractors specifically, but this data was used to review their weighting toward mental health risk in the wider study.
Risk vs reward in the most dangerous jobs
In addition to calculating the most dangerous jobs, we wanted to discover which roles were the riskiest when compared to the compensation (salary) they were receiving. To do this we reviewed the ‘Job Danger Score’ from our index and compared it to the average salary and ranked accordingly, showing you which roles were receiving the highest pay per danger point.
With an annual pay of £50,000, a total of £18,715 above the UK average salary, civil engineers were found to be the top role where the danger and risk are worth the salary paid. They are responsible for the construction of the nation’s infrastructure such as bridges, roads, and railways, but will spend a lot of time on high-risk building sites where slips and falls are common, alongside many machinery risks.
Comparatively, civil engineers don’t rank highly for any factors analysed, however, one study in 2020 found 26% had experienced suicidal thoughts and 97% had experienced stress in that year.
|Rank||Job Title||Average Salary (£)||Weekly Hours Worked||Job Danger Score|
|3||Large Animal Vet||£40,000||42.5||6.1|
|5||Drainage Engineer (Sewer Flusher)||£31,172||45||5.69|
Painters/decorators, who earn around £24,500 a year, had the lowest danger score in the study (3.16). Despite this, they face similar issues to civil engineers with machinery and falls from height in the workplace, but they also have to be wary of the substance danger from paint, and asbestos in buildings. One study reviewed such dangers and found that an average of 334 painters in the UK develop and die from lung and bladder cancer each year.
In the U.S. the job that has the highest reward versus risk is that of a surgeon, who carries an average salary of just under $300,000, working way over the average at 55 hours/week.
Surgeons can face biological risks from patients such as blood-borne pathogens, skin irritation from cleaning, as well as physical stress caused by long hours operating, often longer than 10 hours at a time. On average, around 80 injuries per year are reported for this role which is quite low in this study.
|Rank||Job Title||Average Salary ($)||Weekly Hours Worked||Danger score|
After surgeons, the study found that civil engineers carried the next best reward versus risk. Once again, their risks lie in construction site dangers such as machinery, falls, and collapses, however they are paid $84,295, which is 73% more than the average full-time salary in the U.S. ($48,672).
To determine the most dangerous jobs in the UK and US, we compiled a list of dangerous non-military jobs from various reports and reviewed them against the following key metrics: average salary, employment numbers, injuries, deaths, hazardous chemicals/bio-contaminants risk, mental health risk, long-term physical illness, higher than average health/life insurance, and dangerous environmental factors (such as bad weather conditions).
Weighting for danger score
To rank the jobs we assigned weighted scores from to all risks and adversities, weight was based on the severity and impact on human health:
- Highest weighting: death rates
- Medium weighting: injury rates, long-term illnesses, mental health/stress impact
- Low weighting: bad weather conditions, chemical/biological risk, extra insurance for the job
Risk vs reward is ordered by the salary figures, however, this is going to be subjective to the individual as to whether the risk is worth the compensation.
Mental health data in the UK factored mental illness rates of occupations from the ONS, while the U.S. index reviewed the American Journal of Industrial Medicine’s ‘depression and frequent mental distress’ occupation data.
The stress score, factored in stress, depression, anxiety, and suicide rates, with the latter dictating the highest weight affecting ranking in that category. The stress score also factored in studies that had found specific mental health problems in a specific job and/or industry and were lower where little-to-no mental health issues were discussed/analysed.
Average salaries were primarily gathered from Indeed job listings and the UK’s National Career Service, however, where this was not possible, alternatives such as Zip Recruiter were used.
Various industry studies were reviewed to discover short and long-term health risks specific to each job role. Jobs that had more, or more serious, health risks associated with them were weighted as more dangerous.
For the UK, data used to create this ranking was collected from a range of sources including the UK Government’s Health and Safety Executive, National Careers Service, Office for National Statistics, International Labour Organisation, British Journal of Medicine/Cancer, Archives of Environmental & Occupational Health, Health & Safety Authority, UK Parliament, House of Commons Library, British Safety Council, and more.
Data for the American jobs market was collected from a variety of studies and research including, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United States Department of Labor, Department of Civil Engineering, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, American Journal of Preventative Medicine, Military Medicine Journal, Air Force Institute of Technology, National Cancer Institute, U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, US Air Force, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, and more.
All sources were last reviewed for this study in March 2022 and URLs were correct at this time. A full list of sources can be found in the following document.