Why dangerous jobs aren’t always that dangerous

November 19, 2014

It should come as little surprise that special attention is being paid to the accident that left four dead at a chemical plant in LaPorte, Texas, over the weekend. By the force of their possible magnitude and hideousness, fatalities from chemical leaks can be especially frightening. But while chemical deaths can be nightmarish, their status in the ledger of workplace dangers tends to be less spectacular. 

As this Reuters graphic shows, 18 people died at chemical and petrochemical plants in 2013, less than one half of one percent of the 4,405 total fatalities. That same year, 397 employees died in workplace homicides (“intentional injury by other person” in bureaucrat speak), and a dive into this morbidly fascinating PDF from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that those 18 chemical manufacturing fatalities in 2013 happened at a rate of 1.4 deaths per 100,000 workers—just beneath the rate of 1.5 deaths per 100,000 that befalls both cashiers  and employees of personal and laundry services.

The take-away here reads a little like an OSHA-themed Schoolhouse Rock wrapped in a Zen kōan: Some jobs involve more danger than others, but that doesn’t mean they are intrinsically more dangerous.

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