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By: Thomas Carson
Founder and CEO
Sospes, LLC

Reflections on the Most Dangerous Jobs

ISHN just published a study by a company called AdvisorSmith listing the 25 Most Dangerous Jobs in the United States based on federal data on fatalities from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The list is interesting, but the way it is presented produces results that at first read seemed a little odd. Who new that Grounds Maintenance Worker and Small Engine Mechanic were more dangerous jobs than Police Officer?

When I read down the through the list, I had a number of first impressions. Logging workers makes sense as the overall highest fatality rate – these guys work with big equipment on big tress in remote locations. But seeing Aircraft pilots as number two sent me to cancel my currently scheduled flights – if the pilot is going down, so are we – until I saw in the fine print that these are actually pilots of private planes and helicopters. Think twice about that ride with Uncle Matt…

Garbage Collectors at number 5 surprised me – apparently it is sadly common to get run over by garbage trucks. Agricultural Workers at number 11 surprised me, but again turning to the explanation I discovered that these are mostly traffic accidents going to, from and between work locations. The same cause of fatalities was attributed to Landscaping Supervisors (number 15), Small Engine Mechanics (number 18) and Grounds Maintenance Workers (number 21). For a little perspective on these, the fatality rate in the general population across the entire country has been slightly over 11 per 100,000 for the last seven years, so it seems legitimate to distinguish between the danger of the profession versus what I would think of as risk that is incidental to the profession.

Another surprise to me was Crossing Guard at number 12, which, let me tell you, struck a chord. As a young lad at Leal Elementary School, the competition was fierce to be named to the safety patrol, which was a predecessor job description to crossing guard. The safety patrol members were selected each week from sixth-graders who exhibited qualities of responsibility and leadership, so far as you can find these qualities in 11-year-olds. Selection meant that you wore the coveted safety belt each day before and after school as you exerted authority over your classmates at the crosswalks at each corner of the block. But I digress.

Seeing Police Officers, Construction Workers and Mining Machine Operators at the bottom of the Most Dangerous Jobs list seemed a little counter-intuitive and got me thinking about the difference between data and information. I wanted more context so I added to the data table summary above – here is my expanded table, re-sorted in this case by most fatalities, alongside the original table.

The original ordering of jobs by fatalities per 100,000 workers is interesting and probably conveys value to some readers, but it clearly does not present a balanced picture of which professions are inherently most dangerous. Neither does the new table for that matter. We still need to know the causes of fatalities to make any judgements on which job categories are inherently dangerous, like logging, construction and power lineman, and which are impacted by incidental risks like driving to and from job sites, which carries a baseline risk of 11 fatalities per 100,000 people and has little to do with the basic job hazards.

My message from this is that data is not information. As we become more dependent on analytics, we must become more critical in our acceptance of reports that are being used to make decisions. If you are in doubt about this, go talk to a political pollster.

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