High risk, high reward? The most dangerous degrees in the world

most dangerous jobs in the world
Working on an oil rig has proven to be one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Source: Fred Tanneau/AFP

All degrees lead to jobs. But some degrees lead to highly rewarded and highly rewarding jobs — with a catch: these are some of the most dangerous jobs in the world.

While having a job is great, some are downright risky and can put you, your body and/or your mind in jeopardy every single day.

Many people, however, think they are worth it.

Everyone’s understanding of “danger” is unique to our circumstances, values and priorities.

Some may think it’s mad to take on any of the most dangerous jobs in the world because they have a phobia of fires or guns. Others may fires or guns exciting.

Then there are those who look at the high risks but believe the rewards, be it big salaries or job satisfaction, are well worth it.

It all depends on you.

That said, there are industries, roles, and locations that tap into our biggest and most shared fears.

Below are the most dangerous jobs in the world:

Petroleum/Chemical engineering 

There are some roles that engineering graduates take on that can be quite dangerous and cause fatalities at work.

Most of these pathways within the engineering fields are safe but more specific degrees like petroleum, chemical, or electrical engineering can lead you to take on roles with greater risks.

For example, a chemical engineer may work in a chemical plant, dealing with substances that are toxic and flammable, which could result in deaths.

A petroleum engineer could end up working on an offshore oil rig, where they deal with oil and gas drilling and extraction operations.

So, what makes this one of the most dangerous jobs in the world? To begin with, the environment and operations can be unpredictable and prone to all sorts of tragedies.

Take, for instance, the Deepwater Horizon explosion in April 2010. The rig that was operating in the Macondo Prospect in the Gulf of Mexico exploded and sank, killing 11.

This also resulted in the largest oil spill in the history of marine oil drilling operations.

most dangerous jobs in the world

Marie biologists spend lots of time studying marine life — not all of which are friendly. Source: Torsten Blackwood/AFP

Marine Biology 

A Marine Biology graduate can work all over the world, from a lab doing research to the pits of the deep oceans.

The study of this field looks at plants and animals in the marine environment. They look at the number of these organisms and how they develop, relate, and adapt to their surroundings.

It is a broad area, and most researchers will specialise in either a particular species, group, behaviour, technique, or ecosystem, according to the nature of their interest.

While the job may sound attractive, it comes with its own share of risks and can be physically demanding and challenging.

Some examples of risks a marine biologist faces include animal attacks. While this may seem far-fetched, there is a possibility of getting bitten by sharks, stingrays, venomous lionfish and piranhas.

If you are on a research vessel, you will need the stamina to operate heavy machinery and dive into deep waters as well.

If you are on the ground, extreme weather and temperatures are common.

most dangerous jobs in the world

The aviation industry is not only for pilots, but it offers a variety of job roles to take on. Source: Eric Piermont/AFP


Across the globe, universities and training institutes work hard at providing the practical and hands-on experience that a person may need to operate an aeroplane.

In an aviation course, a student will delve into topics like meteorology, flight training, aviation law, maintenance, aerodynamics, and others.

And each will often cover the different hazards associated with being a pilot or flying, one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.

This is because they’re facing unpredictable weather and system malfunctions — as we’ve seen in many incidents that’s shook the world.

A good example is the Air France Flight 447 that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean while flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in 2009.

A bad storm, malfunctioning equipment and fatigued pilots were proven to contribute to this crash that killed 228 people.

On top of that, “pilot error” is said to be the number one reason why planes crash worldwide. Some happen when pilots misread flight equipment or fail to address mechanical errors.

most dangerous jobs in the world

Coal mining pays well, but comes with risks that can kill. Source: Scott Olson/Getty Images North America/Getty Images /AFP


Being in the mining industry pays you well — there is no doubt about that.

Those with a degree in mining engineering can often find work in all aspects of exploring, extracting, planning, and processing.

But no matter how well it pays, beware that the job comes with a series of dangers.

The top ones include health risks – miners are prone to all kinds of sicknesses and long-term conditions like lung issues, hearing damage, and fatigue.

Miners often work long hours, handle machinery on their own and spend time in dark and dusty environment.

Being exposed to radioactive materials is another reason that makes this among the most dangerous jobs in the world.

Miners also risk cave-ins, explosions, chemical leaks, falls, and electrocution.

One of the more infamous mining disasters was the Mitsui Miike coal mine disaster that took place in 1963, killing 458 miners and injuring 833 people.


One may be tempted to think that as a farmer, you can live on a nice big piece of land while you watch cows and sheep graze peacefully on green pasture.

But in reality, the role of a farmer and everyone within the agricultural sector, including fishing, and forestry, is not always that idyllic.

Agricultural workers are exposed to chemicals, grain bins and silos, noise, musculoskeletal injuries, weather conditions and physical injuries from operating machines.

Those fishing or installing fish farms in specific areas are prone to bad weather or accidents on board.

In 2021, it was reported that a fish farm worker drowned between a boat and a barge in Scotland.

most dangerous jobs in the world

Aerospace engineering is an exciting pathway to dive into. Source: Sam Yeh/AFP

Aerospace engineering 

Aerospace engineering is not only known as one of the hardest degrees that make students cry but it also leads to one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.

Upon graduation, careers like a thermodynamic engineer, flight test engineer or even a spacecraft systems engineer are possible.

They don’t sound menacing — so what makes all these some of the most dangerous jobs in the world?

The risks mostly involve physical hazards especially since professionals in this industry deal with heavy-duty machinery.

They analyse, design, test and construct aircraft, spacecraft, and high-altitude vehicles. This means they are prone to excessive noise and dangerous materials that can cause long-term harm.

Many may wonder if it’s possible to become an astronaut with an aerospace engineering qualification. The answer is yes, you can, with the right amount of experience.

That brings us to more potential risks and dangerous possibilities. Being an astronaut only heightens the uncertainty faced.

Being such a distance from Earth, the lack of gravity, radiation exposure and living in a closed-off environment can surely be detrimental to one’s well-being.

Nuclear science 

Nuclear science and engineering go hand in hand. The field of study explores the development of new nuclear technologies for the benefit of society and the environment.

It’s safe to say we have seen the effects of nuclear and radiation disasters like Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011.

Not many would want to venture into this field despite it being one of the most highly paid salaries in STEM.

There are significant reasons to believe it is among the most dangerous jobs in the world.

Engineers here are exposed to great amounts of radiation, which can lead to cardiovascular diseases, cancer and are fatal to pregnant mothers.

Most nuclear engineers will operate out of power plants, where there is no room for error.

most dangerous jobs in the world

Loggers are at risk of having the trees fall on them. Source: Delphine Ramond/AFP


Arboriculture is defined as the cultivation of trees, shrubs, and woody plants. The practice of it involves executing techniques and specialising in tree care both in urban and suburban settings.

They are often known as “tree care” or “tree services professionals.” So if you need a tree pruned in your backyard, then these are the people you would call.

How is that one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, you might ask. Having the skills that an arboriculturist has can forge a career as a tree logger.

And this is where things get dangerous, and it is easy to see why. Cutting trees in larger areas like in the forest is a risky job to have.

Loggers are susceptible to trees falling on them or them getting injured by the logging tools, which are large and very sharp.

These stories make the news all the time, sadly and have proven to be quite fatal.

Electrical engineering 

You probably know of a relative or friend that took an electrical engineering course at university but yet never thought about the liability the job brings.

This engineering degree can take you to several career paths –you can go from consulting to sales to being a technologist to many other roles.

So clearly, every role has its own unique pros and cons. But what we do know, electrical engineers design, test, and manufacture equipment to the tee.

These kinds of skills place them in a variety of areas, like automobiles and aircraft, so they’re working in different environments or conditions.

What makes it one of the most dangerous jobs in the world? The simple answer is they work with electricity.

Any amount of current over 10 milliamps is enough to produce painful shocks to the body, so anything between 100 and 200 milliamps is lethal.

The more minor hazards are being in contact with live parts that can cause burns to varying degrees or fires.

most dangerous jobs in the world

Journalists worldwide have been targeted in the last decade. Here people commemorate the 41st anniversary of the death of four journalists. Source: Marvin Recinos/AFP


And yes, journalism has made its way into the most dangerous jobs in the world list.

Journalists and reporters write, produce news and bring information to people all over the world.

In that same line of duty, these professionals have been one of the most targeted groups of people by the unscrupulous and authoritarian governments of today.

It was reported this year that the number of journalist deaths increased almost 50% in 2022 from the year before.

Some of them knew they wouldn’t have much longer to live after revealing investigations of corruption, bribery, murder and extortion like the Columbian journalist Rafael Moreno.

Some survive. Roberson Alphonse, a Haitian journalist underwent two major operations after his car was shot at more than 10 times.