As industries have adapted and changed across the UK over the past century, many jobs have become regulated and automated, resulting in once hazardous jobs becoming much safer. So, what professions have replaced these roles as the most dangerous, and which occupations pose the most health risks for workers?
In these findings, the top 25 most dangerous occupations are ranked by the top workplace incidents, excluding accidents. An incident is the chance of an occupation affecting the health of a worker overtime. The average incidence rate for the standard occupation is set at 1. These results show you how much more/less likely you are to receive that injury in each occupation.
Bakers and flour confectioners take the top spot.
Bakers and flour confectioners rank number one, with an average incidence ratio rate 18.2 times the norm. Just asthma and dermatitis alone are 88.5 times above the number of incidents seen across all occupations.
What is the leading cause of workplace incidents for bakers?
Asthma cases equate to 83.1 times the usual amount seen in the average occupation. The inhalation of wheat flour, rye flour and dust, among other irritants causing asthma, is so common that ‘Baker’s asthma’ is a well-known work-related illness. As with certain irritants, such as types of wood dust, the inhalation of flour can cause sensitisation and sometimes result in an allergic response.
Cooks top the list for dermatitis.
With 7.6 times the average workplace incident, cooks come in at fourth overall on this list. The majority of workplace ailments in cookery are due to dermatitis, with the odds of being affected by it at 33.6 times the occupational average. This nasty disease is also known as eczema and appears as inflamed, irritated skin. Dermatitis can result in issues ranging from blistered skin to red, itchy patches.
The main two causes of dermatitis that chefs will face are irritants and allergens. Common irritants include soap, detergents and water (especially hard water), all of which cooks regularly touch when sterilising hands and surfaces. Allergens will vary by person, but specific foods are particularly irritating to touch, including some oils and acidic foods such as citrus fruits.
Hairdressers and barbers come in sixth.
Surprisingly, just behind chemical and other related process operatives are hairdressers and barbers, with over 600% the average chance of a workplace incident. All in all, this is 6.3 times the average occupancy incidence rate.
What is the leading cause of workplace illnesses for hairdressers and barbers?
Dermatitis is responsible for 54% of ill health among this profession, which is 16.8 times the norm. As with cooks, regular washing and drying of hands is a key cause of dermatitis for hairdressers. However, hair products such as shampoo, conditioner, styling products, bleach, and perming solutions also contribute to contact dermatitis. Hair dyes and bleach can also cause allergic reactions, which further increase dermatitis for hairdressers.
Beauticians are eleventh
Beauticians surprisingly place higher than welding trades and metal workers in this analysis, with ill health being 450% the average occupational incidence rate.
What is the leading cause of workplace incidents for beauticians?
As with hairdressers, beauticians are primarily affected by dermatitis, which is cause for 82% of incidents above average. A fundamental cause of skin irritation for beauticians is the chemicals in artificial nails. However, asthma rates are encouragingly low, which could be a result of the HSE recommendations for extraction hoods to remove acrylic fumes and dust filings.
What are the lowest risk occupations?
Among the lowest risk occupations are shopkeepers, office and hotel managers, and chemical scientists.
The chemical scientist occupation is undoubtedly a profession associated with a higher incident rate than most of the top 25 careers. However, with an average rate of illness at just 0.3, this profession sees two-thirds fewer incidents than most occupations.
Why are chemical scientists safer than cooks, bakers, hairdressers, and beauticians?
Despite some of the most dangerous occupations initially seeming relatively safe, there could be a couple of reasons as to why chemical scientists see fewer workplace incidents than cooks and even beauticians.
Firstly, chemical scientists handle dangerous chemicals and require a consistently sterile environment for chemical reactions. Therefore they need a high level of personal protective equipment, accompanied by industry-specific fume and chemical extractors to avoid any serious injury or contamination.
In comparison, cooks, bakers, hairdressers and beauticians will often forgo necessary PPE as the risk isn’t necessarily an immediate threat to life. However, over time the contact with/inhaling of low-risk chemicals and irritants will eventually result in the higher rates of incidents seen in these results.
Secondly, any strong chemicals used by chemical scientists tend to have specific exposure limits and procedures for contamination with them. This level of vigilance doesn’t occur with excessive use of regular irritants and chemicals, such as allergic ingredients, cleaning products, hair products, or flour.
Overall, these statistics emphasise that workers and employers need to stay vigilant of any potential risks in the workplace. Length of exposure should also be just as important as the immediate harm posed by a chemical/irritant when evaluating the safety of your working environment.
Which occupation sees the most musculoskeletal incidents?
Overall, water and sewerage plant operatives are 280% more likely to suffer a musculoskeletal incident than the average occupation.
Which occupation is most harmful to mental health?
Dental practitioners are the highest-ranking occupation with the most mental health incidents (1.9) on this list. Mental health problems are common across all health sector workers, with dental nurses and midwives seeing the same amount of incidents. Nurses and doctors, while not on the top 25 table, also see an equal number of occurrences, which is 190% the average rate across all occupations.
Which occupation sees the most general sickness?
Farmworkers see 4.5 times general sickness incidents versus the average. Just behind this with 4.2, are water and sewerage plant occupations.
David Night, Marketing Manager at Extraction Solutions: “Overall, it’s interesting to see the different problems facing occupations across the UK. In particular, seeing hairdressers and beauticians within the top 20 is surprising.
“This data shows that occupational health can be at risk in any profession. Some of the most unexpected yet dangerous occupations have a long way to come to reach an appropriate level of incidents.
“Overall, this goes to show that minor irritants and chemicals can have a massive effect on health over time, which needs considering when creating safety reports and implementing new procedures.”
All of the statistics collected are from the HSE index of ill health.
The Dermatitis and Asthma Relative Incidence Rate Ratio was calculated by dividing the rate per 100,000 by the average for each incidence. The dermatitis average is 2.82 and the asthma average is 0.49.
- Dermatitis rates were calculated using the THOR – Voluntary reporting of occupational diseases by specialist doctors THORSO4 report. The data used was the most recent average annual rate – the Average annual rates per 100,000 over 2016-2018p.
- Asthma rates were calculated using the occupational asthma: estimated number of cases reported by chest physicians to SWORD and estimated rates per 100 000 workers per year, by occupation 2001-2018 Table THORR04 report. The data used was the most recent average annual rate – the Average annual rates per 100,000 over 2016-2018p.
The ‘Musculoskeletal Incidence,’ ‘Mental Ill Health,’ and ‘General Sickness Absence’ were calculated based on industry reports below. These were matched to the correct occupation using the SIC codes 2007 classified by section finder.
- Mental Ill-health by Industry – THORGP06-Mental ill-health: numbers and relative rates by industry, 3-year average and latest year only (.xlsx)
- Sickness Absence by Industry – THORGP07-Sickness absence: numbers and relative rates by industry, 3-year average and latest year only (.xlsx)
- Musculoskeletal Incidence by Industry – THORGP05-Musculoskeletal disorders: numbers and relative rates by industry, 3-year average and latest year only (.xlsx)
View the full dataset here: The Most Dangerous Occupations Master Dataset