Dangerous Jobs

The Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries program

The Bureau of Labor Statistics collects nationwide information on work-related fatal injuries in its Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) which was conducted for the first time in 1992. Each work-related fatal injury is identified, verified, and profiled using multiple source documents; these diverse data sources include death certificates, workers' compensation records, and reports to federal and state agencies. Cross-referencing these documents provides detailed information about each work related fatality including worker characteristics, equipment involved, circumstances of the event, and details of the injury. The detailed data are then aggregated and used to promote safety efforts by employers, employees, and others.

Fatal injury rates

Dangerous occupations are identified by analyzing fatality rates. CFOI publishes data on fatal injury rates by occupation. Fatal injury rates depict the risk of incurring a fatal work injury for workers in a given worker group expressed as the proportion of fatal injuries per total hours worked annually per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers. This allows risks to be compared among different worker groups. To produce a fatal injury rate for an occupation, the number of fatal work injuries in a given occupation is divided by the total hours worked in that occupation and multiplied by 200,000,000 (the base for 100,000 equivalent full-time workers working 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year).

The Current Population Survey (CPS) is the source for the hours-worked data. The advantages of using the CPS for employment data are that it is timely and the occupational classifications are the same as those used by CFOI. The hours-worked data from the CPS used in the rate calculations do not include workers under the age of 16, volunteers, and members of the resident military. Therefore, fatal injuries occurring to these workers are also excluded from the numerator. However, because CPS is based on a sample, sampling error is necessarily introduced. Examples of the drawbacks involved in sampling error include the potential for large errors in smaller occupational groups and the potential failure to report them at all. The CPS also categorizes workers according to their primary job, which may differ from the job the deceased was working in when fatally injured, as reported in the CFOI. Hours worked annual averages represent total hours at work for CPS respondents, including those that work more than one job. Total hours worked for respondents with multiple jobs will be recorded in the occupation and industry of the primary job.

Occupations with few fatal injuries and low employment in the reference year are removed from annual fatal injury rate analyses. Therefore rates produced in prior years may not appear in future years if they do not meet this threshold. For more information on the methodology of calculating the fatal injury rate, please see the BLS Handbook of Methods, Chapter 9, Occupational Safety and Health Statistics.

Is elephant trainer a "dangerous job"?

The article Dangerous Jobs, published in the Summer 1997 issue of Compensation and Working Conditions, illustrates the difficulty and impracticality of measuring fatal injury rates for occupations with few workers. The article explains why numbers of deaths, fatal injury rates, and other factors should be considered together when analyzing the danger of particular jobs and uses the occupation "elephant trainer" to illustrate the point.

  • From worst to first? Because few workers are employed as elephant trainers, a small number of fatal injuries to elephant trainers would make the fatal injury rate extremely high for a single year, despite their low number of deaths. On the other hand, in most years, this occupation incurs no deaths, rendering their fatality rate 0 and ranking them among the least at risk for incurring a fatal injury.
  • "Elephant trainer" is a hypothetical occupational classification. The classification BLS uses groups these workers with either "artists and performers" or "animal caretakers", both of which include many more people than just elephant handlers.

There are many other elements that factor into any definition of a "dangerous job" such as the likelihood of incurring a nonfatal injury, the potential severity of that nonfatal injury, the safety precautions necessary to perform the job, and the physical and mental rigors the job entails. Since there is no universal definition of "dangerous" or "hazardous", the Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities (IIF) program goes to great lengths not to frame these occupations as the "most dangerous" in a particular year. The IIF program also has certain minimum thresholds that must be met for a fatal injury rate to be published. As such, fatal injury rates are not calculated for many occupations that have a relatively small number of fatal work injuries and employment.


Last Modified Date: June 23, 2017