Partner Series

An explosion in a West Virginia mine Monday that reportedly killed at least six people and left several unaccounted for is a reminder of how dangerous the work is.

But according to U.S. statistics, fishing, logging and flying are the three most dangerous occupations.

"In 2008, the occupations with the highest fatal injury rates were fishers and related fishing works at 128.9, logging works at 115.7 and aircraft pilots and flight engineers at 72.4," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics economist Steve Pegula told Life's Little Mysteries.

The BLS measures fatality rates as per 100,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers. For example, the fatality rate of structural iron and steel workers in 2008 was 46.4 and the number of fatalities was 36. Far more truck drivers died in 2008 than did steel workers, but there are a lot more truck drivers out there, so their fatality rate is not quite so horrific: 22.8.

The average worker's fatality rate is 3.6.

The total number of fatal work injuries in the United States has actually decreased significantly to 5,071 in 2008 (the latest year for which complete data are available), down from 5,657 in 2007, according to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI). The 2008 work fatalities are actually the smallest annual preliminary total since the census program first began in 1992, and each of the top three categories has declined in that period, too. Truck transportation saw a 20 percent decrease in fatalities in 2008 compared to the year prior.

Unfortunately, the numbers for two of the three highest fatality rate occupations have increased in the most recent figures. The number of fatal workplace injuries in fishing and logging occupations rose 6 percent in 2008, after declining in 2007.

Coal mine fatalities in 2009 fell to an all-time low for the second straight year, according to a report released in January. Coal mines recorded 18 mining deaths, and metal/nonmetal mines recorded 16 mining deaths, for a combined total of 34 mining deaths nationwide and a significant drop from last year's total of 53 deaths, according to the Mine Safety & Health Administration. The agency credits tighter enforcement of mine safety laws.