SMOKE: Dangerous Jobs In SA

Originally published: 15 October 2003

I read a CNN report yesterday detailing the top 10 most dangerous jobs in America, and on the evidence the US is a pretty safe place to work.

The most dangerous job in America is timber cutting, with 118 deaths per 100,000 workers on average. According to the report (released by the US Bureau of Labour Statistics), 104 lumberjacks died in 2002, and while I'm sure that's pretty high for the US it's not a patch on some of our more dangerous jobs.

Here's the US list:

1. Timber cutters
2. Fishing
3. Pilots and navigators
4. Structural metal workers (eg. bridge builders)
5. Driver-sales workers (eg. pizza delivery guys)
6. Roofers
7. Electrical power installers
8. Farm occupations
9. Construction labourers
10. Truck drivers

The timber cutters typically get felled by falling trees; the fishermen mostly die from drowning; the pilots and navigators are mostly crop-dusters and other commercial aviation workers (an Alaskan pilot has a one in eight chance of dying on the job over a 30-year career); the metal workers no doubt plunge to their deaths from suspension bridges and buildings, while I presume roofers fall off roofs.

Traffic accidents contribute to mobile sales workers (like delivery guys and vending machine fillers) dying, although almost 25 percent of them die from robberies and assaults; the electrical installers - well - bit of a no-brainer there; construction labourers typically die from accidents with heavy industrial machinery and truck drivers often get little sleep, which contributes to them falling asleep at the wheel, amongst other traffic accidents.

Fair enough.

But before anyone in these professions starts complaining about their dangerous job they should try a stint in South Africa to really get a thrill.

Since I can't find any official information on what South Africa's most dangerous jobs are, I decided to compile a little list for you on the jobs I consider most dangerous in this country.

Not all of them would make it to an official Dangerous list, but that's only because the folks who compile the lists have obviously never worked in one of these professions.

Some are serious, some are not, but all the jobs listed make lumberjacking seem like a paid holiday in comparison.

1. Policeman

The South African Police Service (SAPS) is not a place you want to send your CV in a hurry. From 1994 until September this year (2003), 1,756 police officers have lost their lives in the line of duty, which averages out to 153 police deaths per 100,000 workers - a 22.8 percent higher mortality rate than a US timber cutter.

And it's taken over a 10-year period.

2. Farmer

I noticed that various farm occupations in the US list made it into 8th place, but almost none of those were murders. A farm is always a dangerous place due to the physical nature of the work, but no farms come with a higher price than those in South Africa (Zimbabwe has their troubles, but they're still amateurs in comparison).

According to Crimebusters of South Africa, 1601 of South Africa's 35,000 commercial farmers, farm workers and family members have been murdered since 1991, although everyone - including government - has a different hypothesis as to why they are being murdered.

This represents 313 deaths per 100,000 farmers - more than double the mortality rate of the police services. According to Professor CJ Moolman of the criminology department of the University of the North, South Africa's farm attacks are directly related to the "African Renaissance".

"These ongoing farm terrorist attacks against primarily Afrikaner farmers by African attackers - coupled with President Thabo Mbeki's own proposed and widely propagated African Renaissance programme, should both be viewed as Africans' reactions to European culture, which is seen as 'devastating' by African leaders themselves."

Government has denied the attacks are politically motivated, but who's listening to a bunch of politicians with their own agendas? Besides - how does government know? Have they asked the attackers what their motives are?

3. Mining

While I don't have any official statistics on mining-related deaths, it is commonly accepted that mining is one of the most dangerous occupations in South Africa.

We read in the press time and again about mine disasters, and according to Grist Magazine - a counter culture website - from 1994-1998 there were 1,634 mining fatalities in South Africa, which represents one death per 1.6 metric tons of gold.

Then you have deaths from asbestos poisoning and other mining-related afflictions and the whole lot adds up to a very unsafe working environment.

4. Transit Guards

Why on earth would you voluntarily climb into an armoured vehicle in Johannesburg and drive from point A to point B with a sackful of cash in the back? It's not a very clever occupation if the amount of cash-in-transit heists that occur daily in South Africa are anything to go by.

Tashi was actually in our local shopping centre a couple of months ago when a gang of armed robbers began firing on transit guards delivering cash to the local bank.

While that may be a big deal in other countries - here you simply raise an inquisitive eyebrow and walk around the gun battle, making sure nobody fires a bullet into the packet containing your eggs.

5. Paramedic

I have a mate who is a top paramedic and his tales of the threats and abuse he encounters on his daily rounds are alarming.

From tow-truckers who make death threats because he won't allow them near the accident victims, to the gangs who hang around with AK-47s when he goes on calls to troubled areas, this guy is perpetually under threat from people when all he is trying to do is save lives.

A bullet-proof vest is standard equipment for a South African paramedic and if you can't spot the irony in that then there probably isn't any.

6. Seapoint Restaurant Owner

Seapoint - a well-to-do suburb on the beachfront of Cape Town - is stuffed to the rafters with restaurants and nightclubs, and owners are regularly threatened or murdered if they don't pay "protection" fees to the ever-bloodthirsty population of Moroccans and Nigerians living in the area.

No business is exempt from extortion and all have to pay - failure to do so could make you just another stat on the list of bombings that have occurred in businesses in that area.

7. ANC Representative For Orania

I don't even know if there is such a job, but if there is believe me - you don't want it. They don't like black folks or anyone associated with black organisations or political parties in that hellhole of a little desert town, and as an ANC rep you can probably expect 0 votes and a burning cross outside your door for your efforts.

Not that you'd have a door, of course - forget about living there if you're not white or Afrikaans. You're not welcome.

8. Door-to-Door Salesman

I've been one of these, and while I'm still alive to tell the tale I'm actually defying the odds here.

The chief problem with door-to-door sales is dogs - in South Africa you don't simply have a dog and end of story - no sir. You train that dog to rip apart anyone who isn't you and who happens to enter your property unannounced, and many's the night I spent being chased by savage, unreasoning hounds as I fled screaming into the night.

9. Credit Clerk

I have also been one of these - working for Edgars in the mid-90s - and typically was first in line when The Ladies began queuing up to return the goods they'd bought.

A big scam amongst our supposedly upright citizens is to buy a pair of fancy shoes - on credit - for a daughter's Matric farewell, and to return the shoes the next day for a refund.

We were taught how to spot these cases and must have had at least one a day, amongst all the other scams like returning clothing to Edgars that was not sold by Edgars, "returning" stolen goods and a host of other clever little ploys.

The danger? Trying to tell a 150kg+ Mama that you're not going to credit her return. Try that for size. Those women are absolutely formidable and don't take kindly to skinny credit clerks denying them their hard-earned crime.

If you've never met these women in person, try going to a shop sale at seven in the morning - one in which they open the doors promptly to allow a rush of mad females in, who grab entire racks of clothes without even looking at what clothes are on them. You'll know then what I mean.

Try arguing with those chicks. I dare you.

10. Springbok Rugby Coach

Say no more.

So there you have it - my top 10 most dangerous jobs in South Africa. Some serious, others not as, but all of them vocations which only the mad, stupid or thrill-seeking should apply for.

Take my word for it.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

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Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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