The 32 most dangerous jobs for your health

camp fire firefighters hosing downA Cal Fire firefighter outside a burning home in Magalia, California on November 9, 2018.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

  • Using data from the Labor Department's O*NET occupational database, we found jobs that have high exposure to seven factors that could be risky to your health.
  • While many of the jobs fall in unsurprising fields like mining or firefighting, the top of the list includes several dentistry roles.

Going into dentistry might be more dangerous than it appears.

The Department of Labor's O*NET Online occupational database includes survey-based measures of several work environment characteristics for the nearly 1,000 occupations tracked by the database.

We took a look at seven of those characteristics that could present risks to a worker's health: exposure to contaminants; exposure to disease or infections; exposure to hazardous conditions; exposure to hazardous equipment; exposure to minor burns, cuts, bites, or stings; exposure to radiation; and time spent sitting (as several studies indicate that spending an excessive amount of time sitting can lead to serious health consequences).

The O*NET database assigns scores to each job between 0 and 100 for each of these characteristics, with 0 indicating that the job doesn't have that characteristic at all, and 100 suggesting that the characteristic is a major part of the job.

To get an overall sense of how potentially dangerous a job is to one's health, we took the average of O*NET's scores for those seven characteristics.

Many of the occupations that ended up with high overall unhealthiness scores fall into unsurprising fields like mining and firefighting. However, several of the highest-ranked jobs fall in the field of dentistry, with a combination of high exposure to disease and infections, risk of minor cuts and bites, exposure to radiation, and time spent sitting.

Here are the 32 jobs with the highest overall unhealthiness scores, along with their top three characteristic scores and a brief description of what the job entails from O*NET:

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Metal pourers and casters

Metal pourers and casters

Overall unhealthiness score: 55.7

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to contaminants: 100
  2. Exposure to minor burns, cuts, bites, or stings: 93
  3. Exposure to hazardous conditions: 82

What they do, according to O*NET: Operate hand-controlled mechanisms to pour and regulate the flow of molten metal into molds to produce castings or ingots.

Orthotists and prosthetists

Orthotists and prosthetists

Overall unhealthiness score: 55.7

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to hazardous equipment: 90
  2. Exposure to contaminants: 88
  3. Exposure to disease or infections: 79

What they do, according to O*NET: Design, measure, fit, and adapt orthopedic braces, appliances or prostheses, such as limbs or facial parts for patients with disabling conditions.

Mining roof bolters

Mining roof bolters

Overall unhealthiness score: 55.9

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to contaminants: 100
  2. Exposure to hazardous equipment: 100
  3. Exposure to hazardous conditions: 91

What they do, according to O*NET: Operate machinery to install roof support bolts in underground mines.

Metal-refining furnace operators and tenders

Metal-refining furnace operators and tenders

Overall unhealthiness score: 55.9

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to contaminants: 99
  2. Exposure to minor burns, cuts, bites, or stings: 97
  3. Exposure to hazardous conditions: 82

What they do, according to O*NET: Operate or tend furnaces to melt and refine metal before casting or to produce specified types of steel.

Surgical technologists

Surgical technologists

Overall unhealthiness score: 55.9

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to disease or infections: 82
  2. Exposure to contaminants: 81
  3. Exposure to hazardous conditions: 59

What they do, according to O*NET: Assist in operations, under the supervision of surgeons, registered nurses, or other surgical personnel.

Surgical assistants

Surgical assistants

Overall unhealthiness score: 55.9

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to disease or infections: 87
  2. Exposure to hazardous conditions: 70
  3. Exposure to contaminants: 69

What they do, according to O*NET: Assist surgeons during surgery by performing duties such as tissue retraction, insertion of tubes and intravenous lines, or closure of surgical wounds.

Emergency medical technicians and paramedics

Emergency medical technicians and paramedics

Overall unhealthiness score: 56.0

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to disease or infections: 89
  2. Exposure to contaminants: 73
  3. Exposure to hazardous equipment: 68

What they do, according to O*NET: Assess injuries, administer emergency medical care, and extricate trapped individuals.

Municipal firefighting and prevention supervisors

Municipal firefighting and prevention supervisors

Overall unhealthiness score: 56.4

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to hazardous equipment: 74
  2. Exposure to contaminants: 72
  3. Exposure to disease or infections: 71

What they do, according to O*NET: Supervise firefighters who control and extinguish municipal fires, protect life and property, and conduct rescue efforts.

Mine shuttle car operators

Mine shuttle car operators

Overall unhealthiness score: 57.1

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to contaminants: 100
  2. Exposure to hazardous equipment: 86
  3. Time spent sitting: 82

What they do, according to O*NET: Operate diesel or electric-powered shuttle car in underground mine to transport materials from working face to mine cars or conveyor.

Nurse anesthetists

Nurse anesthetists

Overall unhealthiness score: 57.1

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to disease or infections: 96
  2. Exposure to contaminants: 87
  3. Exposure to radiation: 77

What they do, according to O*NET: Administer anesthetics, monitor patient's vital signs, and oversee patient recovery from anesthesia.

Flight attendants

Flight attendants

Overall unhealthiness score: 57.4

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to contaminants: 88
  2. Exposure to disease or infections: 77
  3. Exposure to minor burns, cuts, bites, or stings: 69

What they do, according to O*NET: Provide personal services to ensure the safety, security, and comfort of airline passengers during flights.

Anesthesiologists

Anesthesiologists

Overall unhealthiness score: 57.4

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to disease or infections: 90
  2. Exposure to contaminants: 81
  3. Exposure to radiation: 72

What they do, according to O*NET: Physicians who administer anesthetics prior to, during, or after surgery or other medical procedures.

Refrigeration mechanics and installers

Refrigeration mechanics and installers

Overall unhealthiness score: 57.6

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to hazardous conditions: 93
  2. Exposure to contaminants: 91
  3. Exposure to hazardous equipment: 83

What they do, according to O*NET: Install and repair industrial and commercial refrigerating systems.

Refuse and recyclable-material collectors

Refuse and recyclable-material collectors

Overall unhealthiness score: 57.9

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to contaminants: 97
  2. Exposure to hazardous equipment: 75
  3. Spend time sitting: 69

What they do, according to O*NET: Collect and dump refuse or recyclable materials from containers into trucks.

Fire investigators

Fire investigators

Overall unhealthiness score: 58.1

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to contaminants: 80
  2. Exposure to hazardous equipment: 68
  3. Exposure to minor burns, cuts, bites, or stings: 67

What they do, according to O*NET: Conduct investigations to determine causes of fires and explosions.

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers

Overall unhealthiness score: 58.3

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to disease or infections: 87
  2. Exposure to contaminants: 82
  3. Exposure to minor burns, cuts, bites, or stings: 77

What they do, according to O*NET: Feed, water, and examine pets and other non-farm animals for signs of illness, disease, or injury.

Millwrights

Millwrights

Overall unhealthiness score: 58.6

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to hazardous equipment: 89
  2. Exposure to contaminants: 88
  3. Exposure to hazardous conditions: 78

What they do, according to O*NET: Install, dismantle, or move machinery and heavy equipment according to layout plans, blueprints, or other drawings.

Nuclear equipment operation technicians

Nuclear equipment operation technicians

Overall unhealthiness score: 58.7

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to radiation: 92
  2. Exposure to hazardous conditions: 81
  3. Exposure to contaminants: 74

What they do, according to O*NET: Operate equipment used for the release, control, or utilization of nuclear energy to assist scientists in laboratory or production activities.

Oil, gas, and mining service unit operators

Oil, gas, and mining service unit operators

Overall unhealthiness score: 58.9

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to contaminants: 94
  2. Exposure to hazardous equipment: 90
  3. Exposure to hazardous conditions: 89

What they do, according to O*NET: Operate equipment to increase oil flow from producing wells or to remove stuck pipe, casing, tools, or other obstructions from drilling wells.

Elevator installers and repairers

Elevator installers and repairers

Overall unhealthiness score: 58.9

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to hazardous conditions: 98
  2. Exposure to hazardous equipment: 95
  3. Exposure to contaminants: 82

What they do, according to O*NET: Assemble, install, repair, or maintain electric or hydraulic freight or passenger elevators, escalators, or dumbwaiters.

Histotechnologists and histologic technicians

Histotechnologists and histologic technicians

Overall unhealthiness score: 59.1

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to hazardous conditions: 88
  2. Exposure to contaminants: 76
  3. Exposure to disease or infections: 75

What they do, according to O*NET: Prepare histologic slides from tissue sections for microscopic examination and diagnosis by pathologists.

Refractory materials repairers, except brickmasons

Refractory materials repairers, except brickmasons

Overall unhealthiness score: 59.4

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to contaminants: 100
  2. Exposure to hazardous equipment: 87
  3. (tie) Exposure to hazardous conditions/Exposure to minor burns, cuts, bites, or stings: 85

What they do, according to O*NET: Build or repair equipment such as furnaces, kilns, cupolas, boilers, converters, ladles, soaking pits and ovens by using refractory materials.

Municipal firefighters

Municipal firefighters

Overall unhealthiness score: 59.4

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to contaminants: 82
  2. Exposure to hazardous equipment: 79
  3. Exposure to disease or infections: 77

What they do, according to O*NET: Control and extinguish municipal fires, protect life and property, and conduct rescue efforts.

Airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers

Airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers

Overall unhealthiness score: 59.4

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Spend time sitting: 93
  2. Exposure to hazardous equipment: 82
  3. Exposure to radiation: 73

What they do, according to O*NET: Pilot and navigate the flight of fixed-wing, multi-engine aircraft, usually on scheduled air carrier routes, for the transport of passengers and cargo.

Stationary engineers and boiler operators

Stationary engineers and boiler operators

Overall unhealthiness score: 60.0

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to contaminants: 99
  2. Exposure to hazardous conditions: 89
  3. Exposure to minor burns, cuts, bites, or stings: 84

What they do, according to O*NET: Operate or maintain stationary engines, boilers, or other mechanical equipment to provide utilities for buildings or industrial processes.

Dental assistants

Dental assistants

Overall unhealthiness score: 60.1

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to disease or infections: 96
  2. Exposure to radiation: 85
  3. Exposure to contaminants: 78

What they do, according to O*NET: Assist dentist, set up equipment, prepare patient for treatment, and keep records.

Immigration and customs inspectors

Immigration and customs inspectors

Overall unhealthiness score: 60.1

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to contaminants: 78
  2. Exposure to hazardous equipment: 65
  3. Exposure to disease or infections: 63

What they do, according to O*NET: Investigate and inspect persons, common carriers, goods, and merchandise, arriving in or departing from the United States or between states to detect violations of immigration and customs laws and regulations.

Oil and gas derrick operators

Oil and gas derrick operators

Overall unhealthiness score: 61.7

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to contaminants: 100
  2. Exposure to hazardous equipment: 96
  3. Exposure to minor burns, cuts, bites, or stings: 93

What they do, according to O*NET: Rig derrick equipment and operate pumps to circulate mud through drill hole.

Prosthodontists

Prosthodontists

Overall unhealthiness score: 62.7

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to disease or infections: 88
  2. Exposure to contaminants: 74
  3. Spend time sitting: 66

What they do, according to O*NET: Construct oral prostheses to replace missing teeth and other oral structures to correct natural and acquired deformation of mouth and jaws.

Dental hygienists

Dental hygienists

Overall unhealthiness score: 64.1

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to disease or infections: 100
  2. Exposure to radiation: 91
  3. Spend time sitting: 85

What they do, according to O*NET: Clean teeth and examine oral areas, head, and neck for signs of oral disease.

Dentists

Dentists

Overall unhealthiness score: 64.6

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to disease or infections: 95
  2. Exposure to radiation: 85
  3. Spend time sitting: 82

What they do, according to O*NET: Examine, diagnose, and treat diseases, injuries, and malformations of teeth and gums.

Dental laboratory technicians

Dental laboratory technicians

Overall unhealthiness score: 66.0

Top 3 health risks:

  1. Exposure to contaminants: 99
  2. Spend time sitting: 85
  3. Exposure to disease or infections: 72

What they do, according to O*NET: Construct and repair full or partial dentures or dental appliances.

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