The Most Dangerous States To Work In America—And The Most Dangerous Jobs To Have In Them

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There’s a significant cultural subset in this country filled with people obsessed by workplace safety—and we’re not just talking about actuaries and  insurance reps. Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers are only the most obvious manifestations of this curious interest, as even the most cursory “dangerous jobs” search engine query will reveal. It’s difficult to understand the fascination for many of these voyeurs, but whatever thrill trigger might be responsible is sure to get pulled by a new study highlighting not only the most dangerous industries in the land but also the most dangerous states in which to work. The big takeaway: There’s surprisingly wide  variation in workplace-injury rates from state to state—even within the same industries.

We’re guessing this isn’t what politicians have in mind when they crow about healthy competition between the states.

The study comes from Allsup, a provider of Social Security Disability Insurance representation. It’s based on 2011 data from the U.S.  Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, and details the most dangerous industries by location, based on the rates of injuries that are serious enough to involve “days of job transfer or restriction.” (In other words, injuries that are serious enough to require an actual job switch or major curtailment of responsibilities.)

And the “winner” is … Maine! (We’d understand if residents decide to hold their applause.) The Pine Tree State clocks in with 1.4 injuries or illnesses involving job transfers or restrictions per 100 workers. That’s twice the national average of 0.7 and 14 times as high as the rate of the least dangerous state in the land, New York, which boasts a rate of 0.1 cases.

Here’s the complete ranking of state with above-average serious injury/illness rates…

Most Dangerous States For Workers

1. Maine (1.4 injury/illness cases with job transfer/restriction per 100 workers)
2. Indiana (1.1)
3. California (1.0)
4. Connecticut, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Alabama (0.9)
5. Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Oregon,  Pennsylvania, S. Carolina, Tennessee and Washington (0.8)

… and those with below-average rates:

Least-Dangerous States For Workers

1. Arkansas, Illinois, Montana, Vermont, Virginia (0.6)
2. Maryland, New Jersey (0.5)
3. Alaska, Delaware, Massachusetts, West Virgina, Wyoming (0.4)
4. Louisiana (0.3)
5. Hawaii (0.2)
6. D.C., New York (0.1)

(Notes: Seven states—Arizona, Georgia, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, Texas and Utah—have rates that match the national average. For nine states—Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Ohio, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island and South Dakota—there was no data available.)

So why are some states so much safer for workers while others states are more dangerous? There are no simple answers. For example, any temptation to credit cushy and safe office jobs for the lower rates in D.C. and New York is belied by the similarly below-average rates of states like Louisiana and Alaska, which have lots of jobs in famously dangerous professions, such as commercial fishing and oil services. Likewise, Maine and New York have an identical proportion of their overall workforces sitting behind desks or otherwise engaged in white collar jobs: 38%, which is actually slightly lower than the U.S. average of 39%.

In fact, attempts to correlate type of work with injury or illness rates across state lines are confounded by the fact that certain professions appear to be more dangerous in some states than in others. For example, serious injury rates in car and truck manufacturing ranged from 1.1 cases in Tennessee to 3.5 in North Carolina. Likewise, the rate of serious injury/ illness for nurses in Maine is 7.1 cases per 100 workers, vs. a an average of 1.5 across the nation. And whatever you do, think long and hard before taking a slaughterhouse job in Oregon. Beaver State workers in that industry are seriously injured or ill due to their jobs at a rate of 8.3 per 100 workers, vs. a national average of 3.1.

More than likely, however, the disparity from state to state can be attributed to a pair of factors: taxonomy and environment. The first, taxonomy, refers to inevitable differences in the way different states classify and report workplace-related injuries. That is, a sprained toe or respiratory trouble in, say, Indiana may be tagged or treated more cautiously than in, say, Hawaii. The second factor, environment, refers to the real and significant differences between, say, driving a tractor in Appalachia and Iowa; big hills are a lot trickier to navigate than great plains. So some of the differences in the Allsup study are undoubtedly meaningful, while others are not.

Unless, of course, you’re trying to claim SSDI benefits.

Indeed, for the folks at Allsup, the driving force behind their study—aside from the PR benefits—was to draw attention to the prominence of workplace injuries in the disability landscape. “A lot of people focus on job-related fatalaties but very little attention has been paid to workplace injuries or illnesses,” says Allsup exec Edward Swierczek, who notes that more than 1 million U.S. workers each year experience an injury that causes them to miss a day or more of work. “They’re the sixth-leading cause of disability claims, and more attention needs to be paid to how they happen, how they’re reported and how they’re treated.”

It’s hard to argue with that goal, but in the meantime here’s Allsup’s ranking of the 11 industry groups with the highest serious injury rates nationwide:

Most Dangerous Jobs In America

1. Amusement parks/arcades (3.2 job transfer/restriction days per 100 workers)
2. Animal slaughtering/processing (3.1)
3. Beverage manufacturing (2.7)
3. Foundries
5. Nursing care facilities (2.6)
6. Beer/wine/distilled alcoholic beverage merchant wholesalers (2.4)
7. Motor vehicle body and trailer manufacturing (2.3)
8. Hog and pig farming (2.2)
8. Motor vehicle manufacturing
8. Community care facilities for the elderly
8. Poultry/egg production

There’s gotta be a History or Discovery Channel show or two in there somewhere!