Why are dangerous jobs so shockingly badly paid?

Sarah Coles
Fishing in a storm: dangerous jobs
Fishing in a storm: dangerous jobs

Some jobs are always going to be more dangerous than the average office gig. While office workers are complaining about poor air conditioning and paper cuts, those putting in a shift in the word's most dangerous jobs have other things to worry about - like the potential for their job to kill them. You would have thought these jobs would require a decent rate of pay in order to tempt people to take the risk, but you'd be wrong. Some of them pay appallingly badly.

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A study by ACA tracked down the most dangerous jobs in the world, and found that, overall, the more risk you face in the workplace, the less you are likely to be paid. Overall, 45% of those earning up to £25,000 say they face potentially dangerous situations at work. Among those earning £25,000-£74,000 that falls to 42%, and among those paying £75,000 or more it falls to 33%.

The title of the most dangerous job of all went to lumberjacks, who suffer just under 133 fatalities per 100,000. The chief risks appear to be having to climb trees with enormous cutting machinery - and having to stand at the bottom where dead branches can plummet to the ground. In return for the risk, they will make £31,170 on average.

The second most dangerous job is fishing, where you face storms that can devastate the boat, and drown the crew. There's also the risk of being pulled overboard by an line that wraps itself around your legs. In total your chances of being killed as a fishing worker is 55 in 100,000. The average pay for this role is £24,240.

The third most dangerous job is the only one that is rewarded by high pay, airline pilots. The fatality rate is 40 in 100,000, largely because of charter and air taxi pilots who fly less stable aircraft in less predictable conditions than commercial airline pilots. The pay pilots can earn is an astronomical £120,440 - but has more to do with the training requirements, the protections of the industry, and the shortage of skilled personnel than the danger involved.

In fourth place are roofers, with a fatality rate of 40 per 100,000. Unsurprisingly the height hazard is the issue here, along with burns, electricity, chemical exposures and hoisting incidents. In return they are paid an average of £33,180.

In fifth place are refuse collectors, who suffer from the risks posed by the waste itself, and also the risk of working in traffic. The fatality rate is 39 in 100,000, and they are paid just £29,720.

It seems, therefore that risk doesn't pay. The issue is partly because while many of the riskiest jobs require skills, they don't all require much education. It means that entry level jobs in relatively dangerous environments don't pay well at all. Construction sites, for example, are naturally risky places (despite the lengths companies go to mitigate the risks), but a building site labourer can earn just £8.05 per hour.

If you don't mind the idea of a bit of risk in your daily life, then the best way to make it pay is to focus in on those requiring specialist skills and training - which push up the paycheques. Life as an astronaut, commercial diver or stunt double, for example, is incredibly well rewarded.

Of course, if you are top of your game, and ready for risk, then the world is your oyster - as any multi-millionaire F1 driver or heavyweight boxer will tell you.

But what do you think? Should dangerous jobs be paid a premium - and should roofers and refuse collectors get danger money?