Any idea why "radio operator" is one of the deadliest jobs in America?

Per this article:

Tree feller, commercial pilot, hoist and winch operator, commercial diver - those I can understand. But radio operator? Are there hordes of sparkies getting electrocuted at work?

Also, travel guide (#8)?

I don’t know about radio operator, but I can understand travel guide if it includes guides on white-water rafting, hunting, or fishing trips.

Per the BLS Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (PDF), there was exactly one radio operator killed on the job in 2014 (see page 6 of the pdf–further research shows this was a homicide).

Perhaps, then, the incidence rate is very high because there aren’t many people employed in the occupation? One in a small sample size has an outsize effect.

Might radio operator include people who do antenna tower maintenance?

Classifying them as radio operators is a bit weird, but radio mast climbing is quite a dangerous occupation. It’s bad enough that it would be worse than many other occupations even if you diluted the population with actual radio operators.

Good point.

Yeah, wondering if there is something funky with the original data.

ETA: the BLS lists ‘falls’ as a category, and there are none listed, so it seems unlikely that tower technicians are included.

I don’t think that’s it: “radio, cellular, and tower equipment installers and repairers” is a separately-listed category on the PDF I linked upthread.

Perhaps the radio operators they’re talking about are sitting behind the commercial pilots, who have a worse survival rate?

I found a link to a 1985 study which showed that ham radios were as bad for you as paranoid people say cell phones are now, but I didn’t find anything more recent than that.

I’d venture to guess that this is down to the Law of Large Numbers.

I don’t remember what I was reading, but it noted that the number of people who died of brain cancers (or some similar rare disease) was lowest in several states and highest in several other states, implying that it’s better for your brain to live in a particular set of low-brain cancer states. But if you checked the sample data, you’d find that the states which came in the best and the worst were both the states with the smallest populations and the states in the middle were those states which had the largest population. Basically, if something is fairly rare, then if you have a small sample size, the variance from the mean will be larger. And as your sample size grows, your results will approach the mean. Or, end of the story, how likely you are to get brain cancer has nothing to do with what state you live in.

If there were millions of radio operators, the number would be meaningful. If there’s only a handful, a single death will drastically inflate their death rate.

This year, for example, the death rate of Supreme Court Justices is 11%. Last year it was 0%.

This is why, in the UK at least, you need to be careful when you tell your insurance Co what you do for a living, because people in high risk jobs (like journalist or actor) pay more for their car insurance. Other examples: unemployed is worse than homemaker; truck driver is worse than transport worker and, presumably, radio operator might be worse than communications operative.

According to the BLS there are 1,100 radio operators in the US. If one of them died on the job then that work give them the level of danger referenced in the OP.

Also the “commercial pilot” category is a catch-all for guys flying crop dusters, heli-logging, flight instructing, airshow performing, …, aaaaand finally airline flying. Needless to say the last group has a very different hazard exposure than the first groups.

He is the guy standing beside the LT calling in a fire mission.


I suspect it is in reference to the FCC’s “Commercial Radio Operator” licensing program which states “You need a commercial operator license to operate, and/or to repair and maintain, specified ship, and aircraft radiocommunication stations”.

Ship radio stations if:
    the vessel carries more than six passengers for hire; or
    the radio operates on medium frequencies (MF) or high frequencies (HF); or
    the ship sails to foreign ports; or
    the ship station transmits radiotelegraphy; or
    the ship is larger than 300 gross tons and is required by law to carry a radio station for safety purposes.
Aircraft radio stations, except those which operate only on very high frequencies (VHF) and do not make foreign flights.

If this is indeed the case I think it would be safe to assume the dangers in that profession come from just about everything but the radio…

In just about every mystery or action movie I’ve seen that takes place in a military outpost or naval vessel, when the hero sneaks into the radio room to send a distress message, invariably the radio operator is slumped over in his chair, leaking brain matter into the destroyed electronics. So maybe truth is just as strange as fiction?

It’s driven by The Narrative. Once the radio operator is out of the picture, the heroes are cut off from outside assistance…and more importantly, from seeking guidance from their superiors. This forces them to grow to meet the occasion, progressing on their hero’s journey.

Kinda like redshirts on Star Trek. Don’t ever volunteer for the landing party.

You know, that’s one thing that strikes me as incredibly WRONG about ST. In TOS, command was yellow and engineering/security was red. In TNG/DS9, command and security was red and engineering was yellow. The problem is in the military, one thing that never changes is heraldry. Infantry is blue, artillery is red, and cavalry/armor is yellow. And that’s never going to change.

Is there some kind of canonical explanation for the change in colors, though? Or is it just costume design, a clothing version of the Klingon heads?

In the old days, I can imagine lightning strikes on antenna with the operator nearby and lousy protection in place killed a few. But for any remotely recent time, that’s gotta be rare.

Another possibility is electrocution by touching the wrong thing, a short somewhere, etc. There can be fairly high voltages inside (and sometimes outside) some equipment. Everybody thinks they can take the lid off a live box, check something out and not get shocked. Darwin ensues.