It used to be that everyone knew which jobs were good or bad, which were tough or easy, and which were dangerous or safe. If you were a logger or made a living fishing in open waters, you were more likely to find yourself injured, or even dead. But the economy has changed. Expanded use of high tech, a need to find new sources of energy, realities of health care, and a trend toward service-based economy have ignited booms in these areas, and a growth of jobs in them.
There's often an assumption that jobs in some of these areas can be cushy, high-paying and no more risky than sitting in a cubicle. However, that isn't the case. Any of these industries rely at least in part on people who will put themselves into unpleasant, unhealthy or even deadly situations -- new types of danger that will likely multiply as the number of such positions grows.
We checked with a variety of sources, including government agencies and trade and specialty publications, to find the top 11 riskiest occupations of the new economy. Here they are by sector:
Tower technician: You can't have cellular communications, radio, cable TV or even electrical power without towers to carry cables and hold antennas. At the top of OSHA's list are jobs that have you climbing towers, including communications towers. And what causes all those deaths? Falls in which the climber isn't tied to a safe point or the safety equipment is faulty. Although the last detailed statistics are from 2006, back then there were 183.6 deaths per 100,000, a rate that makes the risks to commercial fishers look mild. Here's some advice: Stay on the ground and you won't have to fall to get there.
E-waste recycler: Recycling seems like a safe, earthy-crunchy activity. However, as people break down those old cell phones, tablets and television sets for such precious metals as gold, silver and palladium, the processes often release heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium and beryllium -- substances that can cause neurological problems. Much of the work is done by children in India, but also by inmates in U.S. prisons, notes PC World. According to the BLS, refuse and recyclable material collectors saw 22.8 deaths per 100,000 in the U.S., making even collecting the materials risky.
Internet content moderator: Big tech companies that help convey messages and other information inevitably end up having to deal with those whose communications are not only rude and repulsive but might be illegal. At the very least, content moderators are on guard against insults and libel, but it can get much uglier. A Google employee reportedly spent a year screening the search engine for disturbing things such as child pornography and images of beheadings -- then was let go. The child porn reportedly ran to 15,000 images a day, which he said put him into a "really dark place."
Mining worker: Whether it's extracting coal, oil or gas on land or at sea, mining is a dangerous task. According to OSHA, the overall occupation saw 15.8 fatalities per 100,000 workers in 2011. It trailed only agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting. More specifically, according to the BLS, oil and gas extraction saw 15.5 deaths per 100,000 in 2011. For coal mining, the figure was 29.5.
Electrical power line workers: Install or repair, you're at risk when you're high off the ground and eye-to-eye with high voltage lines. The BLS says that in 2011, this occupation saw 29.1 deaths per 100,000 workers. With a national push to create a so-called "smart" electrical grid, expect the amount of work, and chances of injury, to increase.
Nurse: According to Health magazine, nurses see high rates of depression, as do all health care workers. The BLS suggests that problems are also physical and not just emotional. When out from work because of non-fatal injuries or illness (135.7 cases per 10,000), 42.3 percent of the cases lasted longer than 10 days.
Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants: If you think nurses get sick and injured frequently, this group is out far more often: an incident rate of 443.9 per 10,000 in 2011, with a median number of days away from work of 5. About 20 percent of the time it was for falls, trips and slips, while 56 percent of the time was for "overexertion and bodily reaction."
Nursing home workers: Nursing home workers are also susceptible to depression, according to Health Magazine, with 11 percent reporting major depression within the past year, compared to 7 percent in the general population.
Cashier: Cashiering is hazardous? According to the BLS, cashiers are remarkably high up -- 20th out of all jobs -- for non-fatal injuries and illnesses requiring days off from work. In 2011 (2012 figures aren't out yet), 27.8 percent of the cases lasted 31 days or more, and the median number of days off was 7. That's a lot of time without pay. Maybe it's the double threat of carpal tunnel syndrome, which often affects people who perform repetitive motions such as running a register, and whatever viruses people breathe on you when they buy something. If you've ever heard a cashier saying, "This job is making me sick," it could literally be true.
Fast food workers: There are two types of problems that fast food workers face. First, consider the emotional toll. According to Health magazine, food service positions are, in general, among the most depressing in the country. Everyone is telling you what to do, often under time pressure. According to Health's study, about 10 percent of food service workers experienced serious depression within the previous year. If you just look at women in the field, the rate climbs to 15 percent. Now for the kicker: It pays really poorly. Although it's the third most common job in the country, fast food workers in 2012 had the lowest annual mean wage of $18,720. Even wait staff and cashiers average more at $21,000 annually. No wonder fast food workers get depressed.
Financial advisers and accountants: This is another job with a high rate of depression, according to Health magazine, although the publication did not indicate the incidence rate. What's to be depressed about when looking at money? First of all, it's someone else's dough. If you deal with prosperous clientele, you're got details that from a materialistic standard put you thoroughly in your place. And, as mental health counselor Deborah Legge told Health, "There is so much responsibility for other people's finances and no control of the market."