10 most dangerous jobs in Australia
Agriculture, forestry and fishing continue to be some of the most dangerous jobs in Australia.
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Each year, there are hundreds of fatal workplace injuries in Australia. 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.
10 most dangerous jobs in Australia
Road and rail drivers accounted for the most workplace deaths in 2020. 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 13.1 in 2020, 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 7.8 fatalities per 100,000 workers in 2020.
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. The industry had a much lower fatality rate of 3.1 fatalities per 100,000 workers in 2020.
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 19 people losing their lives while working in the manufacturing industry in 2020.
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. In 2020, there were 2 fatalities in the industry.
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 2020, the arts and recreation sector had 2,120 serious claims and 1 death.
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 2019-2020. 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.
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 measure - 5 deaths in 2020 compared to 7 in 2019.
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 2020.
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 2020, there were 6 fatalities.
|Rank||Industry||Average no of fatalities per year||Fatality rate per 100,000|
|1||Agriculture, forestry and fishing||46||13.1|
|2||Transport, postal and warehousing||49||7.8|
|3||Electricity, gas, water & waste services||3||2.0|
|6||Arts and recreation services||1||0.5|
|7||Administrative and support services||6||1.4|
|10||Public administration & safety||10||1.1|
|11||Rental, hiring and real estate services||2||0.9|
|13||Information media & telecommunications||0||0.0|
|14||Accommodation & food services||2||0.3|
|15||Education & training||2||0.2|
|17||Health care & social assistance||1||0.1|
|18||Professional, scientific and technical services||5||0.4|
|19||Financial & insurance services||0||0.0|
Deaths per industry in Australia
Machinery and operator drivers accounted for 67 workplace deaths in 2020 and 51 of those were road or rail drivers. They accounted, by far, for the most workplace deaths in Australia.
|Occupation||Number of fatalities in 2020||Number of fatalities (5-year average)|
|Machinery and operator drivers||67||62|
|Road and rail drivers||51||49|
|Mobile plant operators||8||7|
|Machine and stationary plant operators||8||6|
|Farm, forestry and garden workers||10||12|
|Construction and mining labourer||6||9|
|Technicians and trades workers||26||25|
|Construction trades workers||7||7|
|Electrotechnology and telecommunications trades workers||5||7|
|Automotive and engineering trades workers||3||4|
|Farmers and farm managers||30||23|
|Design, engineering, science and transport professionals||11||9|
|Community and personal service workers||11||11|
|Protective service workers||10||6|
|Clerical and administrative workers||1||1|
Source: Safe Work Australia
The averages shown in this table have been rounded to the nearest whole number; therefore the sum of the figures for the 5yr average column may not equal the total average.
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 2020, 96% of fatalities were men. That means men accounted for 186 of the 194 deaths.
The fatality rate for men was 2.6 in every 100,000 male workers in 2020, down from 5.0 in 2007. In comparison, the fatality rate for women was 0.1 in 2020, up from 0.5 in 2007.
Old or young?
Older workers accounted for most deaths in 2020, 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 2016 and 2020, distributed by age group.
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 41% of all workplace fatalities in 2020.
The table below shows the average number of fatalities caused annually by specific incidents, between 2016 and 2020. It also shows the percentage of fatalities caused by that type of accident.
|Average number of fatalities||Percentage of fatalities|
|Being hit by moving objects||25||13%|
|Falls from a height||22||11%|
|Being hit by falling objects||17||9%|
|Being trapped between stationary and moving objects||11||6%|
|Being trapped by moving machinery||13||7%|
|Contact with electricity||7||4%|
|Rollover of non-road vehicle||6||3%|
|Contact with hot objects||0||0%|
|Slide or cave-in||1||1%|
|Being hit by an animal||3||2%|
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 2016 to 2020.
|Average number of workplace fatalities||Average rate of death|
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.
- Life/death insurance. Life insurance pays a financial benefit to your family if you die, regardless of whether it's work-related or not. Some policies will also pay out if you are diagnosed with a terminal illness.
- Trauma insurance. Trauma insurance pays a financial benefit if you are diagnosed with a specific injury or illness. It can be bought as a standalone policy or as part of a wider life insurance package.
- TPD insurance. Total and permanent disability insurance pays a lump-sum benefit if you become permanently disabled through injury or illness and are no longer able to work.
- Income protection insurance. Income protection insurance is designed to replace a portion of your income if you're ever too sick or injured to work. Typically, payments are capped at two years.
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 55 fatalities between 2019 and 2020. However, the fatality rate in people 65 and over was higher – 5.3 per 100,000 workers.
- New South Wales had the highest number of fatalities (53 compared to 51 for Victoria) but the Northern Territory had a higher fatality rate – 4.6 per 100,000 workers.
- Vehicle collisions were the main cause of fatal injuries in the Australian workplace, accounting for 80 fatalities and 41% of deaths.
- Machinery operators and drivers had the highest number of fatalities (67) followed by labourers (41) then managers (35) and trades workers (26).
- There were a total of 194 work-related injury fatalities, 186 were men and 8 were women.
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