How great a sacrifice?

August 24, 2010
By: Eric Lundin

The world watches, the rescuers drill, and the 33 miners wait. The miners are alive, but the conditions are grim. They’re trapped 2,300 feet underground and have taken refuge in a shelter that measures about 525 sq. ft., which means each person gets an area that measures about 3 by 3 ft. The temperature is estimated to be more than 90 degrees F. So far the only contact the miners have had with the outside world is through a small shaft that operators use to provide supplies and retrieve hand-written notes.
I realize that we all make career choices, and hazardous jobs usually have proportionately higher compensation than similar nonhazardous jobs, and the miners knew the risks when they went in. But all that goes out the window at a time like this. The only thing that matters now is getting them out alive.

I trolled around for some information on careers and fatalities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tallies this data and makes it available in a variety of packages. One that caught my attention was fatalities per number of hours worked, based on 100,000 workers. According to BLS calculations:

  • Self-employment occupations are more than four times as hazardous as jobs associated with wages or salaries.

  • Men’s careers are more hazardous than women’s; male fatalities outnumber female fatalities 9.2 to 1.

  • Fatalities vary from 2.3 to 4.1 per 100,000 workers at ages 18 to 64; after age 65, it shoots upward to 11.5 per 100,000 workers.

OK, now for some specifics. As far as vocations, miners are near the top, but several occupations are more dangerous. The jobs with the highest fatality rates, in ascending order, are:

  • Construction laborers: 18.3

  • Truck drivers and driver/sales workers: 18.3

  • Industrial machinery installation, repair, and maintenance workers: 18.5

  • Refuse and recyclable material collectors: 25.2

  • Structural iron and steel workers: 30.3

  • Roofers: 34.7

  • Farmers and ranchers: 38.5

  • Miscellaneous extraction workers: 51.9

  • Aircraft pilots and flight engineers: 57.1

  • Loggers: 61.8

  • Fishers and related fishing workers: 200.0

Note that “miscellaneous extraction workers” doesn’t home in on mining specifically. This is a subcategory of “Construction and Extraction Occupations,” and extraction includes miners, quarry workers, and oil- and gasfield workers. Still, it provides a reliable estimate of the relative hazards of the job.

Manufacturing is a lot safer. Fabricated product manufacturing is listed in the second half of the BLS report (which lists industries, not occupations), and the rate is just 3.5 per 100,000. Another big advantage is that you can count on seeing your loved ones this Christmas, which is more than we can say for the trapped miners. The rescuers think it will take about four months to bring them to safety, but even this is just a guess.
Eric Lundin

Eric Lundin

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8262