The 11 Most Dangerous Industries in America

Firefighters, cops, and some manufacturing workers faced high risk on the job.

Roswell, N.M., area firefighters and firefighter recruits perform liquid propane gas drills in 2008 at the Louis Jones Training Facility.
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Firefighters and cops look like they have exciting, dangerous jobs, at least in the movies. So maybe there should be more action flicks about people who make ice or build mobile homes.

According to new data from the Labor Department, workers in those two harrowing industries have as dangerous of jobs as their peers who fight fires and crime.

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The latest Labor Department statistics show that 13.5 out of 100 full-time workers in local firefighting had work-related injuries or sicknesses last year, giving them the highest nonfatal injury and illness rate of any industry in the country. They are followed by workers in state-government-run nursing and residential care facilities (13.1 illnesses and injuries per 100 workers) and steel foundries (12.7).

Below are the industries that had the highest rates of nonfatal injuries and illnesses last year. All industries are private except where otherwise noted.

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Industry Nonfatal Injuries and Illnesses per 100 Full-Time Workers, 2011

  • Fire protection (local government) 13.5
  • Nursing and residential care facilities (state government) 13.1
  • Steel foundries 12.7
  • Ice manufacturing 11.9
  • Skiing facilities 11.5
  • Police protection (local government) 11.3
  • Travel trailer and camper manufacturing 11.2
  • Mobile home manufacturing 10.9
  • Iron foundries 10.9
  • Copper foundries 10.3
  • Pet and pet supplies stores 10.3

Note: Data reflect industries with the highest nonfatal injury and illness rates as published by the BLS. Data do not reflect industries with under 500 recordable cases. All data are preliminary.

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Those numbers put the rate of injury and illness in any of the above industries at two to nearly four times higher than the rate for all industries (3.8 injuries or illnesses per 100 full-time workers).

Of course, not all of these workplace maladies are created equal. Workers in manufacturing tend to have much higher rates of hearing loss than workers in any other broad industry category, for example. Private-sector health and education workers also have higher incidences of work-related respiratory illness than other private workers, at 2.8 per 10,000. However, workers in fire protection blew them out of the water, at 15.3 cases of respiratory illness per 10,000 workers in 2011, and ambulance workers had even more, at 19.5 last year.

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It's important to note that these data are only for non-fatal illnesses and injuries at the industry level, meaning that they differ from the Labor Department's recently released data that focused on fatality rates at particular jobs. For those who want to know whether the doctor, nurse, or lab technicians at the local hospital are getting sick the most often, occupational figures will be released next month.

But last year's occupational data shed some light on why some of these jobs have high rates of injury. Fire fighters in 2010, for example, had one of the highest rates of musculoskeletal disorders—a broad category that includes injuries like tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. And state psychiatric aides had a remarkably high rate of nearly 3,000 injuries and illnesses per 10,000 full-time workers.

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Danielle Kurtzleben is a business and economics reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at dkurtzleben@usnews.com.