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Most dangerous jobs in Australia

Are you working in one of the most dangerous jobs in Australia? Read the facts and figures here.

Updated . What changed?

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Some jobs are more dangerous than others. In 2019 alone, there were 171 fatal workplace injuries in Australia. We look at the risks that come with working in particular occupations.

The majority of those fatal injuries happened to people working in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industries, which have long been at the heart of Australia's most dangerous jobs.

Of course, there are other industries that pose a risk to everyday Aussies, even ones that may seem perfectly safe. This page will cover all the facts and figures, so you're fully informed.

10 most dangerous jobs in Australia

Road and rail drivers accounted for the most workplace deaths in 2018. However, their job isn't considered the riskiest. That's because farm, forestry and garden workers have a higher risk of workplace death and injury per 100,000 workers.

1. Agriculture, forestry and fishing

With careers ranging from farmers and park rangers to scientists, the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry has routinely been at the top of the most dangerous jobs list. Common dangers include hazardous equipment and machinery, as well as harmful chemicals. The fatality rate per 100,000 workers was 11.2 in 2018, by far the highest of any other work sector.

2. Transport, postal and warehousing

The transport, postal and warehousing industry can be a hazardous industry, encompassing the likes of truck drivers, postal workers and warehouse workers. Working manual roles often involving heavy machinery makes injuries more common. There were 38 fatalities in this industry in 2018.

3. Construction

From working at height to moving objects and manual handling, construction workers need to be constantly vigilant in order to stay safe. Construction industry workers can include everything from common labourers and earthmovers to carpenters, plumbers and electricians.

4. Manufacturing

Manufacturing includes light industry roles such as clothing and textiles, as well as heavy industries like metal manufacturing and oil and chemical manufacturing. The heavy industries are predominantly more dangerous with 13 people losing their lives while working in the manufacturing industry in 2018.

5. Wholesale trade

Some roles in the wholesale trade industry include transportation and material moving occupations, and installation, maintenance and repair occupations. Dangers include body stressing, falls, slips and trips, being hit by moving objects as well as machinery and equipment such as forklifts and pallets.

6. Arts and recreation services

Arts and recreation services workers include people who work in zoos and parks, as well as professional and recreational sports and amusement centres. For this one, your job will make a huge difference to the dangers you face. In 2018, the arts and recreation sector had 2,120 serious claims and 2 deaths.

7. Health and community services

The health and community services sector commonly has the highest number of worker compensation claims, with 17,345 claims being lodged between 2017-2018. That's largely down to the risks involved in the job, from needlestick injuries to common back injuries. The reason this industry doesn't rank higher is because it has fewer serious claims per 1,000 employees than other industries.

8. Mining

The mining industry includes the likes of riggers, excavators, drillers and crane operators. Because it is a heavy industry, it's always going to be dangerous. However, deaths have fallen in recent years in Australia thanks in part to improved safety measures.

9. Electricity, gas, water and waste services

This sector has also become less dangerous in recent years thanks to improved health and safety. Jobs for this industry can include electricians, plumbers, gas workers, industrial waste management and dangerous waste disposal roles. The electricity, gas, water and waste sector had 3 deaths in 2017-18, up one from the previous year.

10. Administrative and support services

The administrative and support services industry is not exclusively made up of desk jobs. Roles can include building cleaning, pest control and gardening services. In 2018, there were 3 fatalities.

RankIndustryAverage no of fatalities per yearFatality rate per 100,000
1Agriculture, forestry and fishing4714.9
2Transport, postal and warehousing457.3
3Mining83.4
4Electricity, gas, water and waste services42.9
5Construction312.9
6Arts and recreation services62.9
7Administrative and support services51.3
8Manufacturing121.3
9Other services40.9
10Wholesale trade30.9
11Rental, hiring and real estate services10.7
12Public administration and safety50.7
13Accommodation and food services30.4
14Information media and telecommunications10.4
15Health care and social assistance30.2
16Retail trade20.2
17Education and training10.1
18Financial and insurance services00.1
19Professional, scientific and technical services10.1

Deaths per industry in Australia

Machinery and operator drivers accounted for 51 workplace deaths in 2018 and 36 of those were road or rail drivers. They accounted, by far, for the most workplace deaths in Australia.

OccupationNumber of fatalities in 2018Number of fatalities (5-year average)
Machinery and operator drivers5162
Road and rail drivers3645
Mobile plant operators99
Machine and stationary plant operators68
Labourers 3646
Farm, forestry and garden workers1317
Other labourers1315
Construction and mining labourer811
Technicians and trades workers2727
Construction trades workers39
Electrotechnology and telecommunications trades workers117
Automotive and engineering trades workers56
Managers 1626
Farmers and farm managers1521
Professionals813
Design, engineering, science and transport professionals79
Community and personal service workers49
Sports and personal service workers24
Protective service workers02
Clerical and administrative workers12
Sales workers12

Source: Safe Work Australia
At the time of publication, July 2020, there was incomplete data for 2019 and 2020 as investigations were still ongoing. That's why we used figures from 2013-2018

Who is most likely to be injured at work?

Men or women?

Men are far more likely to be injured at work compared to women. In 2018, 94% of fatalities were men. That means men accounted for 136 of the 144 deaths.

The fatality rate for men was 2 in every 100,000 male workers in 2018, down from 5 in 2007. In comparison, the fatality rate for women was 0.3 in 2018, up from 0.1 in 2007.

Old or young?

Older workers accounted for most deaths in 2018, with people aged 55 to 64 suffering the highest number of fatalities, followed by those aged 45 to 54.

The table below shows the number of deaths between 2014 and 2018, distributed by age group.

20142015201620172018
Under 252217161619
25-343339333224
35-442828243325
45-544550393627
55-643842484831
65+3136262418

What's causing workplace injuries?

The most likely cause of workplace deaths in Australia is some kind of vehicle collision. In fact, vehicle collisions were blamed for 31% of all workplace fatalities in 2018.

The table below shows the average number of fatalities caused annually by specific incidents, between 2014 and 2018. It also shows the percentage of fatalities caused by that type of accident.

Average number of fatalitiesPercentage of fatalities
Vehicle collision6535%
Being hit by moving objects2715%
Falls from a height2513%
Being hit by falling objects179%
Being trapped between stationary and moving objects95%
Being trapped by moving machinery84%
Contact with electricity63%
Drowning42%
Rollover of non-road vehicle42%
Contact with hot objects42%
Being assaulted by another person32%
Explosion32%
Slide or cave-in21%
Being hit by an animal21%
Other74%

Which state is most dangerous for workers?

The Northern Territory has the highest rate of workplace fatalities per 100,000 workers, while NSW has the most deaths overall.

The table below shows the average number of workplace fatalities per year as well as the average rate of death per 100,000 workers. It relies on Safe Work data from 2014 to 2018.

Average number of workplace fatalitiesAverage rate of death
NSW561.5
QLD461.9
VIC371.2
WA241.8
SA131.5
NT43
TAS52.2
ACT10.3

Does workers compensation help with workplace fatalities?

Yes. If you die at work, workers compensation insurance will pay a lump sum to your family. The set amount varies between different states. In NSW, the current lump-sum benefit is $750,000.

Workers compensation will also pay a benefit for funeral expenses as well as other costs such as travel and accommodation for family members who want to attend the service.

If you suffer an injury while you're at work, workers compensation insurance will cover lost wages as well as any medical expenses and rehabilitation costs.

However, workers compensation is typically capped at 130 weeks unless you're totally incapacitated. Self-employed workers also tend to be excluded from workers compensation.

These are just some of the reasons why many Aussies choose to take out income protection insurance or life insurance in addition to the workers compensation cover they receive through their employer.

Can insurance help with workplace fatalities?

Yes. Life insurance can help make sure your family is looked after if you die in a workplace accident. It can also help if you suffer an injury and are unable to work for a while or ever again.

There are a few different kinds of insurance that can help people in risky jobs or anyone who wants to make sure their family will be financially sound.

Other key findings

Here are some other key findings from the Key WHS statistics Australia:

  • The highest number of fatalities occurred in people aged 55 to 64. There were 31 fatalities between 2017 and 2018. However, the fatality rate in people 65 and over was higher – 3.3 per 100,000 workers.
  • New South Wales had the highest number of fatalities (47 compared to 39 for Victoria) but the Northern Territory had a higher fatality rate – 2.2 per 100,000 workers.
  • Vehicle collisions were the main cause of fatal injuries in the Australian workplace, accounting for 44 fatalities and 31% of deaths.
  • Machinery operators and drivers had the highest number of fatalities (51) followed by labourers (36) then technicians and trades workers (27).
  • There were a total of 107,335 serious claims in 2017-2018 in Australia.
  • There were a total of 144 work-related injury fatalities, 136 were men and 8 were women.
  • Body stressing was the main reason for claims; falls, trips and slips was second. Mental stress came in at fourth.

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