The most dangerous place to work in America? Try a commercial fishing boat. After that, it's the nation's highways and byways — truckers and traveling salesmen, farmers and ranchers. Dangerous places, dangerous lives.
Fishing excursions off the coasts of Alaska, Massachusetts and other coastal states take a greater percentage of lives than any other profession, according to the latest workplace fatality numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Sinking ships, or workers taking a spill on the deck or falling overboard, led to fishers claiming the most perilous spot on the bureau's list of dangerous occupations, ahead of loggers, aircraft pilots and steel workers.
Meanwhile, even the most stringent workplace safety rules can't help much when the workplace is the open road.
Highway crashes, a professional hazard for truck drivers and traveling salespeople, accounted for a quarter of all work-related deaths last year, more than any other mishap, according to the BLS.
In a year where total workplace deaths declined to 5,702, from 5,764 in 2004, the number of highway deaths edged up by 2 percent. It's also one of the few categories to trend higher over the past dozen years, rising 6 percent since 1994 as the overall number of workplace deaths declined 14 percent.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, almost two-thirds of all highway fatalities are categorized as "road departures," as opposed to intersection or pedestrian accidents, an indication of tired drivers veering out of their lanes or off the road altogether.
Highway crashes were the cause of two-thirds of the 991 deaths of sales drivers and truck drivers last year, placing those occupations in eighth place on the bureau's list, with a fatality rate of 29 deaths per 100,000 workers. And it's not just crashes on the open road that can be deadly. A third of the 341 farmers and ranchers killed on the job last year were victims of off-road crashes of various types of vehicles. Off-road crashes also caused 22 percent of the 176 deaths among agricultural workers, BLS numbers showed.
Other common causes of workplace deaths were run-ins with equipment or objects (18 percent), assaults and violence (14 percent) and workplace falls (13 percent), which accounted for a third of last year's 339 construction site fatalities and two-thirds of the 130 carpenter deaths.
The overwhelming majority of dangerous jobs are held by men, who accounted for 93 percent of all workplace fatalities last year while comprising 54 percent of the overall workforce.
But on a per capita basis, the top of the occupational danger list is held by those who fish for a living. While the profession only produced 48 deaths last year, the relatively small number of commercial fisherman put the fatality rate at 118 per 100,000, or about one of every 5,400 workers. Much of the business in the U.S. is concentrated in Alaska, where, according to the trade publication Northwest Public Health, vessel sinking, deck falls and people going overboard are ongoing causes of injuries and deaths. While much of the recent regulation there has centered on responding to sea emergencies that occur after a fall or boat sinking, the regulators haven't looked closely at preventive measures, Northwest Public Health concluded.
The best news? Homicides, which account for the majority of workplace deaths among executives and supervisors in retail and other business services, continue to decline. Following general national trends, homicide as a cause of workplace death fell to 767 incidents last year, from 822 in 2004 and 1,080 in 1994.