A few weeks ago, I spent the day playing tourist in Gloucester, Massachusetts, with my niece Caroline. As part of our visit, we stopped by the famous Gloucester fisherman's statue, where there's a memorial to all the Gloucester men who've lost their lives over the years. I don't know how many names are listed on the tablets, but I read somewhere that over the years about 10,000 Gloucester fisherman have died at sea.
Two things strike you when reading through the names. One is the shifts in ethnicity, from primarily "Yankee" names, to a lot of Irish names, to Portuguese and - mostly - Italian names over time. The second is that there are a lot fewer deaths in recent years. Part of this is no doubt due to the decline in the size of the Gloucester fleet. But it's due in some part to better equipment, better technology, and better weather forecasting.
The job of fisherman is safer than it used to be.
Which is not to say that it's not still dangerous.
It is, in fact, the country's most dangerous job, according to a recent article in Forbes by Tom Van Riper (based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data.)
Fishing death is not all dramatic Perfect Storm types. It's apparently a lot of slipping and falling overboard. But dangerous it is. There were 142 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2006. (This somewhat overstates it, since there aren't actually 100,000 workers in the industry. The number of deaths was 51. In absolute terms, of the Top 10, the most dangerous jobs were Farmer and Rancher with 261 deaths, and Drivers, with 940 or 1300, it was various reported in the text vs. picture captions. Most of these were caused by asleep-at-the-wheel accidents.)
Also in the Top Ten:
Pilots and flight engineers
Iron & steel workers
Refuse & recyclable materials collectors
Farmers & ranchers
Electric powerline workers
Drivers (truckers and traveling salespeople)
Surprisingly, given all the recent focus on it, mining is not that statistically dangers - thanks in large part to regulations passed over the years.
Not surprisingly, men account for the vast majority of workplace deaths: 92%.
Not surprisingly, agricultural states had the highest per capita death rates: Wyoming, Alaska, North Dakota, and Montana are the most dangerous places to work. (Meanwhile, East Coast city-slicker states were the safest: Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and New Jersey.)
What I found shocking was the number of murders at work. While the 516 homicides recorded "was the lowest total in 12 years," I still find it startling that over 500 people were killed while working. (Several months ago, I wrote about one such killing - the murder of the receptionist at a Michigan accounting firm.)
As we observe the sixth anniversary of 9/11, it should be noted that on that day, it was exceedingly dangerous to be a NYC firefighter, police officer, or paramedic; a Cantor Fitzgerald bond trader, a secretary at the Port Authority, waiter at Windows of the World, staff officer at the Pentagon, American Airline pilot, or any number of other innocent by-stander jobs. Hard to believe that six years have passed since that dreadful day.