The most dangerous jobs in America


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Fishermen and hunters are officially the most dangerous jobs in the US, according to the 2020 census released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics last month. The group saw 132.1 fatalities for every 100,000 full-time equivalent workers; a stark contrast to the overall worker fatality rate across all industries of 3.4 deaths.

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As our chart shows, delivery and truck drivers came lower on the list, despite the fact that 887 people died on the job in 2020 alone—the highest absolute figure on the graph. This comes down to the fact there are so many people in this profession, pushing the proportional risk of harm lower.


Taking a step back, in the entire year of 2020, 4,764 people were killed on the job in the U.S. That’s an average of 13 people dying each day, or one worker dying every 111 minutes.


This figure represents the lowest rate of deaths since 2013. As Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of U.S. unions, explains on CNBC, much of this change is credited to the coronavirus pandemic which “meant fewer people were in direct contact with preventable hazards, production priorities shifted and businesses were forced to do more prevention planning.”


Those who continued to work on site, and subsequently were at greater risk of injury, proved to be disproportionately Hispanic or Latino and Black workers, with 4.5 and 3.5 deaths respectively. Deaths of Hispanic or Latino workers have been on the rise in the past years.




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Witch hunters & other weird jobs we’re glad no longer exist


“When I grow up, I want to capture and sell rats from pubs!” said no one in the 21st century ever (well, at least almost no one, we suppose).


While the age of the machine and automation have taken away some jobs, there are plenty that we’re probably all pretty glad have gone away. After all, chances are OSHA would not approve of having little boys stuffing gunpowder into canons these days. Or catching rats, for that matter.


With that in mind, here are some of the most dangerous and, well, odd, jobs that we’re really glad aren’t around anymore.



State Library of New South Wales / Wiki Commons


If Covid didn’t make you appreciate hairdressers, just wait until you hear about ancient Roman hairdressers, called ornatrices. These were enslaved women who were in charge of making their mistress’s hair look as ornate and “fashionable” as possible. Part of that was often dying their hair (did we mention that hair dye back then was made of rotten leeches, pigeon poop, urine, dead leeches and other nasty stuff?).

Related: The mullet is back, but it’s been around for centuries


Tetraktys / Wiki Commons


Ewerers were medieval workers whose main job was making nobles have the best bath time possible. They got them hot water for bathing, warm water for washing their hands, dried their clothes, and, of course, drew them a bath fit for a king (sometimes literally).



Lawrence Alma-Tadema / Wiki Commons


Hairdressers weren’t the only ones who had the short end of the sheers. You’ve heard of barbers, but what about barber-surgeons? They did all the things you’d think a barber would: lice removal, hair trimming, beard trimming, and, you know teeth removal and bloodletting. If you’ve ever wondered about what that old timely barber pole is about, it’s actually a symbol of the latter stuff on that list: brass for the basin used to collect patient blood, blue for bandages, and red, of course, for blood.


Franz Anton Maulbertsch / Wiki Commons


Personally, getting paid to eat food doesn’t sound too bad. But when the title’s food/poison taster? Maybe not so much. Since the advent of kings and queens, poison tasters would taste a noble’s food for poison placed there by enemies. Probably not too surprisingly, this does exist to some extent today. Actually, at the Summer Olympics in 2008, mice tasted athletes’ food to ensure it wasn’t poisoned.


Giorces / Wiki Commons


Luckily, “necessary woman” is no longer a necessary job. These poor women emptied chamber pots (aka toilets). For those lucky enough to serve royal and nobles, the pay was pretty decent (£60), and it came with free lodging and supplies.



John Riley / Wiki Commons


City dwellers know all too well how nasty rats can be. Enter (or we guess, exit): Rat catchers. These gross, often disease-ridden pests were (and arguably are, still) a menace to society in the Victorian era. So, rat catchers would go to pubs and other public places, trap mice, and often entertain passersby by doing tricks like grabbing as many rats as they could in one hand and let them crawl up and down their arms.



State Library of New South Wales / Wiki Commons


Remember the movie “Hidden Figures?” Well, NASA’s “human” computers used to be the norm before digital ones took over. Human computers, often women, solved (or computed) mathematical equations and literally crunched the numbers.


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Ah, witch hunters. While this is one past job that many people are probably realize that this was more of a side hustle than a full-time occupation. Still, these side hustlers did hustle hard, with many taking their job a bit too seriously. Case in point: Matthew Hopkins, the self-appointed “Witch Finder Generall” of England. He tortured and killed around 230 people in just three years, from 1644 to 1647. Makes you a bit more appreciative of less murder-y side hustles like Uber, huh?


Wiki Commons


While bowling alleys may not be as fashionable as they once were, they sure are easier to maintain! Back before the advent of mechanical pin setters in 1936, someone (often young boys) called a pinsetter had to manually reset the pins.



Lewis Wickes Hine / Wiki Commons


No, we’re not talking about the animal! A badger was a farmer’s market middle man for city slickers back in the 1880s. They would buy food from a farmer, go to the city, and “badger” city dwellers to buy their fresh foods.



Dr. Fischer Kunstauktionen / Wiki Commons


While this job may have looked happy-go-lucky on “Mary Poppins, it was anything but. Chimney sweeps got soot buildup out of chimneys. Many chimney “masters” pretty much bought poor kids off parents unable to take care of them since kids could fit in the chimneys better than adults. Unsurprisingly, these children often suffered from horrendous health issues.



Museo Sonogno / Wiki Commons


If you recall your intro to psych class, a phrenologist measured peoples’ intelligence by the shape of their heads. This pseudoscience was based in racist beliefs about the differences in skill shapes between white and Black people, among other since debunked myths.



The British Library


A whipping boy was a young prince’s designated “friend” who was whipped every time the prince misbehaved. While this sounds downright awful, many whipping boys were given some sweet perks in their adult lives, such as Charles I designating his whipping boy as the first Earl of Dysart back in 1643.



Walter S. Stacey / Wiki Commons


Proving yet again why child labor laws were desperately needed, a powder monkey was yet again a young boy who would load gunpowder into the cannons of warships.


Related: 50 facts about war you may not know


The Photographic History of The Civil War / Wiki Commons


Harkening back to pseudoscience-based jobs, alchemists attempted to turn pretty much anything and everything into gold. While we now know that this medieval practice doesn’t work (shocker), it is worth pointing out that Roberty Boyle, the founder of modern chemistry, pretty much stole an alchemist’s own research for several of his own.



Joseph Wright of Derby / Wiki Commons


A what now? Knock-knobblers, as the name so elegantly suggests, was someone who ran around church services chasing out dogs. Thankfully, this doesn’t appear to be a problem anymore (although maybe they wouldn’t have needed whipping boys so much if they had dogs in churches to keep rascally young princes occupied…).


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Kriste Sorokaite / iStock


Section hands were railroad workers who maintained tracks before machines took over the job. Although John Henry the gandy man does have a right to it, gandy dancers was a common and prerogative slang term for this physically exhausting, often dangerous work.



Edward Hungerford / Wiki Commons


No, not that type of knocking up. These knocker-uppers were the 1800s version of alarm clocks. They’d literally knock on their clients’ windows, using pea-shooters, really long poles, or even a good old fashion tap with their knuckles to ensure the client got up in time for work.



Nationaal Archief


During Prohibition, a hush shopkeeper was essentially the gatekeeper of bootlegged alcohol for customers who were looking to wet their whistle by buying liquor at their local shop.



United States Library of Congress


Caddy butchers worked in both the U.S. and the U.K. all the way until the 1940s. They sold horse meat, which was considerably cheaper than beef, venison, and other proteins.



Peter Yezek / Wiki Commons


Before there were ice road truckers, we had the equally dangerous and crucial ice cutters. Back before your fridges and freezers were capable of storing ice, lakes were the main source of these luxurious ice slabs. So, you’d have to find a good ice cutter who could acquire the ice for you.



Russell Lee / Wiki Commons


A redsmith, or coppersmith, was an expert crafter of brass, copper, and other zinc alloys. They made and fixed household goods and tools for over 6,000 before the industrial revolution made this profession all but obsolete. Now, most coppersmiths are artists instead of toolmakers.



Heinz-Josef Lücking / Wiki Commons


A scissors grinder helped grind and give new life to a variety of sharp, pointy objects, like knives, scissors, and other tools. They used an abrasive wheel that they traveled door-to-door with to sharpen peoples’ pointy stuff. They managed to stay relevant until the 1970s, when it became much cheaper and easier to buy new tools than to sharpen old tools.



William Edward Fretwell / Wiki Commons


One of the many jobs for youngsters was the billy boys profession. Billy boys pretty much made tea for those who worked at railway yards, blacksmith sites, construction sites, and more. They used “billycans,” which were lightweight pots, to boil water over a fire for tea.



Johan Larsson / Wiki Commons


Barbers weren’t the only ones draining people of blood. Back in medieval-er times, the leech collector went around, well, collecting leeches and selling them to doctors, who would then use them for bloodletting procedures done to their patients.



Robert Havell / Wiki Commons


Leeches were in good company before modern medicine. In the 1600s, when leeches just wouldn’t do, a toad doctor would use dried or powdered toads to treat inflammation, headaches, and a slew of skin conditions. For some reason, these doctors believed toads had special healing powers they believed could cure their patients.





Proving once again that the 19th century was much grosser than modern times, the crossing sweeper literally walked in front of rich people to clear a path down the street from them. The wealthy hired these folks to avoid coming in contact with waste and other yucky things, as well as to keep their clothes clean while they were out and about.

Related: 8 tips to keep your home cleaner longer


William Powell Frith / Wiki Commons


Last but not least, enter the resurrectionist In the 18th century, modern medicine was becoming a thing, and doctors and medical students needed dead bodies to study and dissect to learn more about how the human body worked. (And yes, that sometimes meant unearthing already buried bodies when demand for cadavers was high.) So, resurrectionists acted like a creepier and nastier Amazon Prime by exhuming the recently dead and delivering them to medical professionals and students.


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