Risky business: 10 high-risk jobs for risk takers
Alaskan bush pilots
These airborne daredevils, who fly into Alaska's remote wilderness regions, make modern life possible in the nation's largest state. Bush pilots bring mail and supplies to isolated villages, and sportsmen and prospectors to backcountry lodges and otherwise unreachable locales. No wonder OutdoorLife.com compares these men and women to Pony Express riders of the Wild West. Combining "the raw survival skills and courage of explorers with the savvy and gut instincts of saloon poker players," bush pilots negotiate unpredictable weather and unforgiving terrain every day. With crashes an occupational hazard, it's not uncommon to hear a pilot say, "It's a good landing if you can walk away from it."
-- By Linda Lowen
Talk about multi-tasking. Commercial diving combines construction, repair and demolition work with deep-water diving. From bridge, tunnel and elevated highway construction to work in the maritime and oil-and-gas industries, commercial divers bring topside skills – such as cutting and welding, materials handling, and operating hand and power tools – under water. Divers face health threats such as drowning, respiratory and circulatory risks, hypothermia, low visibility, and physical injury from the use of heavy equipment under water. However, welder-divers are one of the better-compensated high-risk jobs, with annual salaries ranging from $100,000 to $200,000.
Armored car personnel
Ah, the lure of cold hard cash. Even if it's not yours, be prepared to take a bullet for it. Armored car drivers and guards enjoy a head-turning set of wheels (a bullet resistant vehicle), sharp clothing (a bulletproof vest) and no-nonsense accessories (a deadly firearm). Although they handle hundreds of thousands of dollars every day, they earn very little for the risks they face. But with all eyes on you and money at your fingertips, maybe the attention and thrills are worth it.
Bomb squad and explosive ordnance disposal
Enjoy taking your life in your hands...literally? Deactivating bombs for a living goes beyond The Hurt Locker and war zones. Civilian bomb-squad technicians work for local and state police forces and the FBI, while military personnel are EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) specialists. DangerousJobsGuide.com claims that "the Navy hands out large signing bonuses for EOD specialists – between $40,000 and $150,000." High pay, nerve-wracking situations and high risk make for one explosive career and give new meaning to the phrase, "My coworker blew up in front of me today."
You're standing on a mountainside facing a hellish wall of flame, and your fire crew is the last line of defense against a wildfire threatening to engulf a nearby hamlet. The adrenaline-pumping work of a wildland firefighter also includes digging line (dirt firebreaks in the soil), loading fire-retardant slurry onto a helicopter, and wielding a chain saw. Fatalities are especially grisly. In On the Fireline, former wildland firefighter Matthew Desmond writes, "When firefighters die in a forest fire, they burn from the inside out...Trapped firefighters hysterically inhale the burning oxygen, which melts their lungs before the ravaging crematorium consumes their bodies." (Maybe that desk job isn't so bad after all...)
You don't have to be Superman to be a man (or woman) of steel. Structural iron and steel workers install iron and steel beams, girders and columns on buildings, bridges and other structures, and assemble the cranes and derricks that move structural steel. The physically demanding and dangerous work is usually performed outside in all types of weather, occasionally at great heights. Unlike Superman, steelworkers aren't invincible. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes they have one of the highest injury rates of all occupations.
If you're a lumberjack and you're okay, consider yourself lucky. Logging ranks among the nation's most dangerous professions, says national underwriter website PropertyCasualty360.com: "Machinery, sharp blades, steep slopes, falling heavy timber and extreme weather constitute the working environment for loggers—one of the deadliest jobs out there." It helps to love the great outdoors, but tree huggers need not apply.
King/snow crab fishing
You know your job's high risk when it provides nine seasons' worth of gripping reality TV drama for the Discovery Channel. Deadliest Catch reveals what it's like to haul around 700-pound steel traps on the deck of a boat lashed by 25-foot waves in the Bering Sea during the coldest and stormiest months of the year. What's not to like? Certainly not the paycheck: up to $50,000 for three months' work.
Imagine changing light bulbs on a 1,500-foot broadcast tower at 2 a.m. after the station goes off the air. That's just one of several sky-high duties expected of a tower climber, along with painting and scraping, running antennas and cables, placing and removing bolts, and putting together hundreds of feet of steel to build a communications tower. (Picture an erector set on steroids.) At JobShadow.com, a former climber tells of working at dizzying heights 8-9 hours a day in every season, sometimes with temps as low as 20 degrees. Applicants need a high level of physical fitness, a great sense of balance, strong focus and planning, a desire to work outdoors, the ability to solve problems and -- need we say it? -- no fear of heights. The biggest job benefit? The views are incredible.
Whether you call them sanitation laborers or refuse and recyclable-materials collectors, the work's still the same. Garbage collectors had the fourth-highest fatal work-injury rates in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Labor -- 41 deaths for every 100,000 workers. Odors, dust, insects and vermin are nothing compared what the State of California cites as risks: "[Exposure] to diseases as well as dangerous materials including chemicals, hypodermic needles, broken glass, and falling objects." As in every other high-risk field, safety training and appropriate apparel greatly reduce the hazards.