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World's Most Dangerous Jobs

World's Most Dangerous Jobs

by Paula Reid, Bear Grylls (Foreword by)

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Complete with a foreword by Bear Grylls, this book questions the real-life practicalities of these career paths

When you're stuck at your desk day after day, do you find yourself daydreaming about a glamorous occupation, such as a race car driver, an astronaut, or a stunt double? The adrenaline rush and prestige of these extreme jobs is one thing, but


Complete with a foreword by Bear Grylls, this book questions the real-life practicalities of these career paths

When you're stuck at your desk day after day, do you find yourself daydreaming about a glamorous occupation, such as a race car driver, an astronaut, or a stunt double? The adrenaline rush and prestige of these extreme jobs is one thing, but have you ever considered the practicalities? This compelling book unravels the mysteries and exposes the pitfalls of the world's most dangerous jobs, giving a fascinating insight into the working lives of those who regularly stare death in the face rather than the usual mounds of paperwork. With interviews and practical information about each job, such as skills required and a danger rating, you'll be prepped and ready to live life on the edge!

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Students will enjoy piquing their curiosity with this book that describes the perks and risks of some unorthodox occupations. An affordable, entertaining read." —Library Journal
Library Journal
The popularity of workplace-reality television series such as Ice Road Truckers and The Deadliest Catch serves as a reminder of the allure of real-life professions with an implied risk of danger. This new, first-person title offers a voyeuristic glimpse into the lives of 21 adrenaline junkies who enjoy hazardous occupations. Reid (Boat to Boardroom; 7 Racing Rules) covers jobs ranging from astronaut and avalanche controller to vulcanologist and superbike champion, featuring adventurers who share a bond of courage and resilience. While some careers may appear glamorous—the big-screen stuntman, the firefighter rescuing a child from a burning building—others, such as commercial fisherman, involve grueling work, foul weather, and low pay for little or no glory. In interviews, however, the fisherman expresses the excitement of the big haul, ice road truckers reveals the thrill of handling amazing machines, and the vulcanologist shares his passion for making discoveries. The interviews provide insight into living life on the edge, though some can be dull and lack sufficient detail. The careers are rated for their danger levels and include estimated salaries, with the latter making it apparent that many take on these roles for the excitement rather than the money. VERDICT Students will enjoy piquing their curiosity with this book that describes the perks and risks of some unorthodox occupations. An affordable, entertaining read for high school and public library career collections.—Bobbie Wrinkle, McCracken Cty. P.L., Paducah, KY

Product Details

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Read an Excerpt

World's Most Dangerous Jobs

By Paula Reid

Summersdale Publishers Ltd

Copyright © 2012 Paula Reid
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-85765-769-5



* * *

Extreme rating: * * * * * * * * * *

Danger level:

Criteria: Entry is extremely competitive; must be established as a test pilot, engineer, scientist or medic; excellent physical condition

Skills: Team player; good leader; good follower; controlled ego; stamina and ability to deal with stress

Salary: US $64,724 — $141,715 (£40,500 — £89,000)

* * *

Dr Piers Sellers (PhD) OBE is a meteorologist and a NASA astronaut. He is a veteran of three space shuttle missions:

Space Shuttle Atlantis (7 — 18 October 2002), a mission to install a truss to the International Space Station (ISS). To do this, Sellers completed three spacewalks and logged 19 hours and 41 minutes of EVA (extra-vehicular activity — work done by an astronaut outside of a spacecraft. It usually refers to a spacewalk but also applies to a moonwalk). The mission was accomplished in 170 orbits, travelling 4.5 million miles in nearly 11 days.

Space Shuttle Discovery (4 — 17 July 2006), a test mission and assembly flight to the ISS. The crew tested new equipment and procedures to increase the safety of space shuttles following the Columbia disaster in 2003. They also carried out maintenance on the space station and transferred across supplies, equipment and a new crew member. The mission was accomplished in 306 hours.

Space Shuttle Atlantis (14 — 26 May 2010), the thirty-fourth shuttle to the ISS. On this, Piers was Mission Specialist 4 and lead robotics officer.

Shuttle crews are usually six or seven people. The pilot and co-pilot are always US citizens and ex-military. The other crew can be from other space agencies or friendly countries. So Canadians, Europeans, Japanese, Russians.

You'd think that it would be difficult working in a small, tight space with different cultures, but actually it works out OK because everyone's from a scientific, technical or flying culture, or sometimes two or three of these. So we have a lot in common; we have similar educations and interests; we are engineers or pilots or scientists. We tend to get along, but there's no time for socialising: everyone's either working hard or so tired you just go to sleep.

Boy, we work hard. Welcome to the 16-hour day. Back to back. Shuttle missions are pretty tiring, they really are. You're trying to get an awful lot done in a short time: maximum value for money and a full agenda.

It's not so much physically tiring because you're in space; you're floating around; you're not really exerting yourself much. That's actually a problem. For the ISS — International Space Station — crews, they have to exercise two hours a day on all these torture machines we have ... treadmills, weight machine simulators and stuff like that. It's mentally tiring more than physically because you're trying to keep track of so many things and stay on the timeline and get things done quickly. There are many moving parts to any space mission.

When you get back home you feel exhausted. Mainly physically, because you've been floating around for two weeks and when you come back to earth, gravity just drags you down to the ground — you feel like a little old man. But that goes away after two or three days, then you feel fine again.

We drink water or any other drink that doesn't have alcohol in it. Food is mostly military-like rations: MREs (Meal Ready Eats). But when you get up there, there is a change in the fluid in your body, a lot of it moves north into your head and your taste buds and sense of smell don't work nearly as well in space. So it's like eating cardboard — you eat for effect. I always find it an effort to eat. I have to make it a job. Physically, you lose quite a bit of calcium in orbit and the countermeasure is a lot of exercise which seems to partially offset it.

* * *

Spacewalking is the best thing I ever get to do. That's fun, just floating around outside the space station looking down at the earth — just beautiful. It's not like looking through a window into the aquarium, you are in the aquarium. You're floating around out there. That's magnificent.

On my first spacewalk, I was the first guy out of the hatch. So we kinda dived out there and I found it completely disorienting for the first few seconds.

Bright, bright light from the sun and a sense of everything moving so fast underneath me and then this gigantic spaceship hanging above me in the black sky. It was magical.

It took me about 30 seconds to get my brain unscrambled. It was really something. Then it did unscramble and I got down to work. All the training kicked in.

You know, it's a very alien environment. You're floating above a planet and you're in free fall. You're bowling along and there's a white sun and a black sky and everything is moving pretty fast. It's extremely beautiful.

The world is very quietly but rapidly turning underneath your feet, 200 miles down and it's quite the sight. You recognise places — it's like looking at maps, but very detailed, very pretty ones. You can see the world moving underneath you. You go around the whole world in 92 minutes. You are doing 5 miles a second travelling at 17,500 miles per hour.

Five miles a second. You go from Land's End to Kent in one minute. I went to school in Kent. I couldn't see the house but I could see Kent very clearly; all the little bumps where Dover and Dungeness are ... all those places. You can see the shape of the coastline very clearly.

It never gets tiring to look out the window. Absolutely beautiful.

It never leaves you. Not so much when I'm up there but when I come back, I always have strange dreams. Dreams about floating, about sharp darkness, followed by brilliant light and back again, that kind of thing. It's extraordinary.

* * *

I've never felt nervous. The training's very good and it prepares you, at least psychologically, for anything that's coming at you. So, no, I never felt frightened. But all astronauts are frightened of screwing up, how about that? Because of the pressure and the money involved, but they're not frightened of the actual physical danger. You're very well trained for it. It's kind of — 'numbing' is the wrong word, but you get psychologically accustomed to what's coming. People have been doing aviation training for 70 years. And it works. It really works.

But the danger is very real. We built five shuttles, we lost two: one on launch and one on entry (Challenger and Columbia). So those are probably the most dangerous periods. Spacewalking is dangerous too, but not as dangerous as launch and entry, I think. Don't let anybody tell you this stuff isn't dangerous. It is. When they start selling tickets for people to go up and into orbit, don't be looking for a cast-iron guarantee that it's going to be A- OK at all times. It's not. It's the nature of the beast.

I guess I've pushed my chances, numbers-wise. Oh, gosh, I guess I could work it out. If we've lost two crews in 135 missions and I did three. You could do the math ... one in twenty-something, I guess. There but for the grace of God, as they say. Everyone's a volunteer in this business, no question about it. Nobody left after Columbia. When we lost Columbia, pretty much the whole astronaut office stayed in place. Everyone stuck around and worked hard to get things fixed.

There's a lot of discipline and training and military efficiency to the operation, but then it's such a massive undertaking, you never know if something could go wrong. It's too complicated for there not to be a risk of that, and the margins for error are small and the energies are very high. So it's on the edge all the time. You strive for perfect safety, but you know you can't achieve it. But if you don't try, it will definitely be unsafe.

I think the whole business of space exploration will be a pioneering business for some time to come. It's not routine. It really isn't. It is still dangerous and I don't see that changing anytime very soon. I think that's the way it is. Civil aviation now is pretty safe, in fact it's very safe, but early aviation wasn't. When the crossover actually happened, probably sometime in the 1950s or 1960s, it sort of swapped over. So I think we're still back in the barnstorming phase; we're in a sort of 1920s or 1930s equivalent in space flight.

I'm an old aviator [laughs].



There have been 18 space flight deaths, including 14 space shuttle astronauts and four Russian Soyuz cosmonauts. There have also been 11 deaths of astronauts and cosmonauts during training.

On 28 January 1986 Challenger disintegrated 73 seconds after launch, killing all seven astronauts on board. On 1 February 2003 Columbia disintegrated during re-entry, killing its crew of seven.


The International Space Station orbits at 205 — 255 miles altitude. It completes 15.7 orbits per day travelling at a speed of 17,500 miles per hour (approx. 5 miles per second) so the space station sees a sunrise once every 92 minutes!

(NASA, 15 December 2008, 'Current ISS Tracking Data')



* * *

Extreme rating: * * *

Danger level: * * * * * *

Criteria: Expert skier (not snowboarder); experience in avalanche control or ski patrolling; able to read snowpack and interpret weather conditions; able to observe and correct potential snow hazards; physical fitness; ideally, experience with explosives

Skills: Good work ethic — able to work outside in adverse weather conditions; good people skills; self-motivation

Salary: US $50,000 — $60,000 (£31,000 — £38,000)

* * *

I forecast and control avalanches around our highways in Washington State. My primary focus is the Snoqualmie Pass, which is a busy interstate highway going through a very snowy part of our mountains from Seattle to Boston. We have lots of traffic on that road with heavy snowfalls and avalanche conditions. We average 38 feet of snowfall there each winter — which is quite a bit. It's a big challenge just to keep the roads and driving surfaces in good shape, let alone the hazards the avalanches bring.

Then, in the springtime, I have a different highway that I work on. It's a little two-lane highway, known locally as the Chinook Pass. This area has much more rugged terrain and it's very scenic with a lot of snowfall. We probably see 58 feet here a year. The highway itself is located right in the middle of nearly 100 avalanche paths that affect the road, so it would be impossible to keep it open for any viable period throughout the winter.

We just let it snow in and around mid April, my avalanche crew arrive and we begin avalanche assessments while our maintenance crew clear the snow from the road. Our job there is twofold. First of all it's to keep the maintenance crew safe while they're performing their work, but then our ultimate goal is to eliminate the avalanche risk so that by the time the highway opens (typically end of May or early June), there is very little or no avalanche hazard. We can then leave the area and people can come up and enjoy the recreation — sightseeing, hiking and skiing. In a nutshell, that's what our operations entail.

We look at the snowpack every day and watch the weather. Snowpacks are divided into two primary climates: maritime and continental. The maritime climate, which is where I work, is characterised by very deep snowpack in fairly mild temperatures. So we get lots and lots of snow. It's also not uncommon for us to have rain in the winter. The avalanche conditions that we deal with are very much driven by the weather. So that's a big component of our job: looking at the weather and at the snowpack. Each day we go out, dig into the snow and look at the structure; the different layers and how they're interacting with one another. What we're primarily looking for are weaknesses within the snowpack, weak layers that might be a place where an avalanche would slide. From there, we're looking at what the weather's going to do. Will we receive additional snowfall, or will it turn to rain? Rain or additional snow load can be triggers. As the winter moves toward the spring the sun begins warming the snow, so we need to keep a close eye on those weather conditions. From there, if we determine an area needs our attention, we'll set up avalanche control and blast the slope with explosives.

I have a crew of five employees and I look for people who have experience doing avalanche control or ski patrols. They need to have expert skiing ability, a good work ethic, the ability to be outside in very adverse conditions for long periods of time and experience with explosives. A part of our job on the Chinook Pass is triggering avalanches with our skis — what we call 'ski cutting', where we ski across the top of the slope and set off an avalanche. So I need people that are safety-minded in order to do that kind of dangerous task.

We work with explosives and artillery as well. There is definitely a degree of danger to that, but we all enjoy it and want to come back the next day. It looks dangerous, but safety is important, it's a big part of what we do. When you go out and trigger an avalanche with your skis, you've got to do it right or the consequences can be severe. You really need to be in the right place, because if you get caught in an avalanche you only have seconds to get out. Otherwise you're going to be swept down the slope, potentially hitting trees or rocks and get buried. None of that is desirable.

I was caught in one just briefly and was able to get hold of a tree almost immediately, keeping myself from going down the slope. Fortunately, it was right at the start of the avalanche, so as soon as I got hold of the tree, the snow above pushed against me and then within a couple of seconds, it had gone. Then it was just a matter of getting the snow off of my body so I could stand up again. I was lucky that I was near where the avalanche triggered and able to act quickly to get out.

* * *

We use different methods with explosives. We throw hand charges, which are like sticks of dynamite, 3 inches diameter by 8 inches long. We ignite a fuse that burns for 90 seconds before it explodes. So that's one method; hand charges thrown on the slope.

Then we use aerial trams which can be as simple as a piece of cable running from one point, say a tree, to another. The explosives are hung from the cable and belayed into the avalanche zone. The hand charges are typically about 2 pounds. The tram shots are anywhere from 25 — 55 pounds — creating a much, much bigger blast. They're designed to explode in the air above the snowpack and have a much wider range, so they blast the snowpack, shake cliffs or trees and bring down as much snow as possible. They are detonated remotely. We either put a three-minute fuse ignition system into the bag of explosives and send it out on the tram, or we connect that explosive back to our safe area using detonating cord and then ignite it.

Some trams have the cable running at a slightly downhill angle so that the explosives can be belayed out. However, in other cases, we need to deliver explosives across a flat expanse, or even uphill. We have two trams that run alongside the highway and they're powered by stationary bicycles. We climb up a tower, get on a little bicycle, hang the explosive on the cable and pedal! That rotates the cable and sends the explosive up the hill. It's kind of unique. It's a modified unicycle and it's been there for over twenty years.

Europe is probably more technologically advanced than us with push-button control, but we still get there and probably have more fun!

The other thing we have is some surplus military artillery. For areas that we can't access directly, either with a tram or a hand charge, we use the artillery. We have a 105-millimetre recoilless rifle, which is a 1950s vintage. This weapon is due to retire quite soon but it's been our main artillery piece for years. It delivers a 5.5-pound explosive to where we want to trigger an avalanche. More recently, we've augmented that with another piece of artillery — an M60A3 battle tank; a track tank from the 1970s. It's parked on a ridge — we don't drive it around — it just sits there. It also has a 105-millimetre gun, delivering a slightly larger payload of 7 pounds. We climb inside, the turret spins around, we position on our targets, load the weapon and fire. It does a really good job. I never imagined I would fire a tank in my career, but here I am.

We use explosives at Chinook Pass as well, but in a different manner. We go out on the slope where the avalanches start and bury explosives in the snow. This is in the springtime; the snow tends to be more stable in the morning when it's cool, then it becomes unstable during the day as the sun warms the air, heats the snow and puts energy into the snowpack. So we go out in the morning, bury the explosives and we'll put in big shots, like 300 — 400 pounds, spread out across the slope. That's all connected together with a detonating cord; we'll run that back to the top of the ridge, wait for the conditions to warm and for the avalanche hazard to increase. Then we'll detonate it and get some pretty good results.


Excerpted from World's Most Dangerous Jobs by Paula Reid. Copyright © 2012 Paula Reid. Excerpted by permission of Summersdale Publishers Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Paula Reid is the author of 7 Racing Rules and Boat to Boardroom. Bear Grylls is a British adventurer, writer, and television presenter best known for his television series Man vs. Wild.

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