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What is the most dangerous job in the UK – and how much would you need to be paid to do it?
We surveyed 2,000 British workers to find out which jobs they think are the riskiest – and what salaries they think people in those professions earn.
We then looked at government data around the risks of different occupations, plus average salaries for that work to see how the reality compares to public perceptions. We looked at data from 2015 and 2020 – the most recent five year period when all datasets overlapped (see our methodology below).
The most dangerous jobs in the UK
According to government figures on injuries and fatalities in the workplace the most dangerous jobs are firefighter, police officer and warehouse worker.
The following table lists the top 10 most dangerous occupations along with average salaries.
- Firefighter: despite only one fatality in the profession in the five years we looked at as part of the study, the high injury numbers (47,530 in the same time frame), put it at the top of the table. More than half of respondents to our survey said they consider it to be a risky job
- Police officer: with 13 deaths and 1,300 injuries, this profession comes second for risk. One in three survey respondents said they thought working in the police was risky
- Warehouse worker: 35 deaths and 18,000 injuries make this another high risk job – although the higher number of people doing this work means it ranks third behind police and firefighters.
Which jobs are perceived to be the riskiest?
Our survey respondents thought being a builder was likely to be the most dangerous job – yet this doesn’t feature in our top 10 table of risky jobs (above), and was ranked 14th overall. That said, as an industry sector, construction is the third most risky area to work in with 16,000 injuries overall in the past five years according to government statistics.
Respondents recognised that firefighters and those in the police had risky jobs with 52% saying they thought the fire service was risky and 33% saying the same for policing.
But many of the jobs in the table of highest risk were strongly underestimated by those in our survey.
Only 4% of respondents thought being a care worker was a dangerous job, for example. Yet care workers sustain more injuries when working than electricians and builders, which were rated as twice as dangerous in the survey.
Chefs and kitchen assistants both came out in our top 10 most risky jobs but only 2% of survey respondents thought this work was dangerous.
And while individual education jobs, such as teachers and teaching assistants, don’t rank as highly on the table for risk, education is the most dangerous sector for overall injuries aside from firefighters, with 26,000 injuries in total over five years.
Unsurprisingly, the data found that managerial and administrative roles were the least dangerous, with retail manager and admin worker ranking last and second to last respectively.
How we compensate dangerous jobs
Despite being the riskiest jobs, firefighters and police officers are not the best paid workers.
The following tables reveal the best and worst paid dangerous jobs – where data on average salaries by profession has been taken from the government’s National Careers Service.
The best paid dangerous jobs
The worst paid dangerous jobs
While civil engineers work in the most dangerous industry sector (construction), their specific role means they are less exposed to risk, and the high median salary makes them the highest paid, similar to some leadership and managerial positions in the table.
At the other end of the spectrum, warehouse workers and kitchen assistants are among the lowest paid yet they are also working in some of the most risky sectors.
Education is the lowest paid sector in the table, on top of being the second most dangerous area to work, suggesting some educators might be strongly underpaid relative to the amount of risk they take on.
Respondents to our survey overestimated the average salaries for most jobs by a significant margin. They estimated a firefighter’s median salary to be £35,000 per year, for example, when in reality the figure is £28,000.
The same was true for the lowest paying roles with respondents estimating the average salary for a gardener to be at £32,000 per year, when in fact it is £20,500. And while gardening does not figure in the top ten most dangerous jobs, it is still more dangerous than farming or being an electrician, for example, yet gardeners earn less than farmers and electricians, on average.
UK workers’ attitude to risk
A high number – one quarter of respondents to the survey – said they thought their own job was dangerous.
And 91% agreed that workers should be paid more if their job is considered to be more risky. Although among the 9% minority who disagreed, 17% said they had a dangerous job themselves.
Proportion of workers who consider their job to be dangerous
When it comes to looking for a job, unsurprisingly salary is the top consideration (79%) for would-be applicants (see table below), followed by location of the work (55%) and the commute (43%).
But fewer than one in five respondents (19%) considered safety to be a priority.
Factors British workers consider when switching jobs
Nine out of 10 people in the survey felt workers doing a higher risk job should be paid more, yet the research found 35% of those doing dangerous jobs were paid between £20,000 and £40,000 a year, 15% earned between £40,000 and £50,000. Just 6% earned more than £100,000 per year – this compares to 10% of those who said their job is not dangerous.
Close to two thirds of respondents (58%) said they would only accept a job with a high risk of injury (25% risk) if they were offered a higher salary.
Interestingly though, when it came to the main factors people said they would consider before moving jobs, among those already in risky jobs, one in five (21%) did not cite salary as a main factor for switching jobs. This compares to just 13% who did not list salary as a main consideration among workers in less risky jobs.
Among the full survey sample almost one in four (24%) said they would not accept a job with a high risk of being injured or hurt no matter what the salary. Of those who did put a price on the risk the average level was £94,000 a year – more than double the average salary of a firefighter or police officer, for example. Many of those in the most dangerous jobs rarely take home more than £40,000 a year.
Men were more likely to accept higher pay for a more dangerous job at 85% compared to 67% of women. Although men set the financial bar higher by saying they would only take the risk for more than £100,000 a year, compared to women who put the figure at £84,000 a year.
Tips for life insurance cover
When it comes to buying life insurance, some jobs are considered more risky and this can push up the premium you have to pay. Dangerous jobs might include working on an oil rig, deep sea diving, working at extreme heights, pilots and those in the armed forces, for example.
Emma Walker, chief growth officer at LifeSearch, says that for these types of riskier jobs, insurers will want to know more detail about your work to get their pricing right: ‘Insurers will want to know where you are based, for example, onshore or offshore, where you have to travel to in your job, how often and for how long. They’ll also want to know if you work with any hazardous materials.’
Most employers will offer death-in-service benefit to their employees – this can be around three times your annual salary, for example, but it could be more. Always check first what cover you have through your employer. Then you can work ou t if you need more life insurance, perhaps including critical illness protection, to cover your family financially should the worst happen.
Speak to an independent specialist life insurance broker, such as LifeSearch. It can work out your specific protection cover needs and then look across the market, comparing different policies to get the best possible cover at the right price for you.
Forbes Advisor research shows that for a 30-year old healthy, non-smoker it is possible to get £200,000 of life insurance cover for under £10 a month.
LifeSearch’s Emma Walker says: ‘Most insurers will insure firefighters at standard premium rates without exclusions. However, if they regularly work above 40 feet, for example, some insurers may increase the premium or apply an exclusion. If in doubt, speak to a broker.”
We used government figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Home Office to get death and injury statistics. Salary information from the National Careers Service. We used data from 2015 to 2020 as this was the period when all data sets overlapped.
For the danger score, we gathered injury, death, injury rate, hours worked, and salary for each job and multiplied each of the factors by a fraction of one, weighting each factor differently (death was the highest, followed by injury rate, injury number, then hours worked and salary) we then aggregated those numbers to create a score out of 100.
Our consumer survey data came from an Opinium survey for Forbes Advisor. Survey of 2,000 adults between 10-14 February 2023.