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The Most Hazardous Jobs in History

It’s easy to forget how dangerous certain jobs can be. In many cases, we’re only reminded of these dangers when things drastically change in our society. Take the role of a doctor, for example. This job might not seem very dangerous most of the time, but in the case of a global pandemic, it suddenly becomes one of the most hazardous jobs out there. 

Many other people are putting their safety on the line so that we can continue to enjoy essential services like groceries, post, pharmaceuticals, and more. All of these people deserve our gratitude. They are the ones who are keeping our societies strong in this time of need. 

With all that said, it’s also worth looking on the bright side. After all, many jobs in history have been incredibly dangerous. In fact, just being alive during most of humanity’s history would have almost guaranteed you a much shorter lifespan, regardless of where you worked. Let’s take a look at some of the most hazardous jobs in history as a reminder of how thankful we should be.

Greek and Roman Chariot Racers

Chariot race
Image by Jamie Brown from Pixabay

Being a Greek or Roman chariot racer would have been an exciting and glamorous job. You would experience an adrenaline-pumping, high-octane rush as you raced around the track with the clamor of roaring crowds in your ear. 

Unfortunately, the life expectancy of one of these racers wasn’t very high. Collisions with other racers were common, and racers could easily fall off their chariots. If massive head injuries didn’t kill these racers upon hitting the ground, they would still likely be trampled to death by their rivals. 

Powder Monkeys

Powder monkeys were young boys who served on Naval vessels. At the height of the Civil War, boys as young as six were serving in combat roles. Powder monkeys were tasked with transporting gunpowder from the ship’s stores to the guns. They would have to run back and forth between the guns and make sure that each artillery piece had enough gunpowder to continue firing. 

Enemy ships who saw powder monkeys would specifically target these young boys. Snipers would try their best to hit powder monkeys because they knew that once they had been killed, the guns would stop firing. As a result, powder monkeys earned their name by swinging, ducking, and crawling around the deck to avoid being hit. Being a powder monkey was one of the most hazardous jobs for young boys.

Food Tasters

Wine taster
Image by tookapic from Pixabay

Throughout history, monarchs employed servants whose sole job was to taste their food. This was, of course, because of the risk of being poisoned, and the food taster would often die because they ingested a substance meant to kill their king or queen. 

On the bright side, food tasters had the chance to eat some of the most expensive foods and drinks that money could buy. Because of this, the job of a food taster was somewhat sought-after in ancient times. 


Logging might not seem like a particularly dangerous job, but this profession has been responsible for a tremendous amount of death and injury over the years. In the early days, there were almost no safety regulations. They also used questionable steam-powered machinery that often exploded or backfired. 

Even today, logging is considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Things can quickly go wrong, especially when you’re dealing with a large, heavy, and unpredictable object like a tree. 

Child Chimney Sweepers

During the 18th and 19th centuries, children were employed as chimney sweepers. This job was much more dangerous than it might sound, and many risks were facing these small children. 

On the one hand, the children could easily fall long distances and severely injure themselves. On the other hand, the soot inside the chimney was even more lethal. Chimney sweepers also developed a particular kind of skin cancer that was caused by soot particles. 

Lime Burner

Lime burners were crucial to the production of mortar during the Middle Ages. These individuals were responsible for heating chalk to create quicklime – a crumbly substance that was then added to sand to create the mortar. 

The problem was that heating chalk produced carbon dioxide, an extremely toxic gas. Lime burners would sit in front of the kiln for days at a time, causing drowsiness, then paralysis, then suffocation and death. 


Hatter were people who made hats with the pelts being shipped in via the fur trade. Unfortunately, mercury was used to separate the fur from the skin of the animal. When the hatters received their furs, they were already contaminated with this toxic substance. 

After working with these furs and inhaling the mercury vapors, hatters developed severe neurological problems. They eventually developed various psychological issues such as shyness, tremors, extreme irritability, and psychoses. This eventually spawned the phrase “mad as a hatter.”

Coal Miners

Coal mining is an ancient profession, and we have known about the risks for some time. People are still suffering today as a result of their exposure to coal dust and particulate matter. In the ancient world, coal was used for metallurgy, lime burning, and other tasks. During the industrial revolution, the demand for coal rose sharply. 

The most famous illness associated with coal mining is the “black lung.” This illness is incurable, and it often leads to respiratory failure and death. 

Coal mining is still a hazardous job but thanks to safety regulations it has gotten safer.


Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Painting might seem like one of the least dangerous professions imaginable. After all, what could be safer than sitting in front of a canvas and painting a magnificent landscape? Well, painters throughout history have had to deal with paint that contains lead. 

If you spend an entire lifetime working with lead-based paints, you run a considerable risk of developing diseases connected with lead poisoning. Many of the world’s most famous painters probably had some degree of lead poisoning. The most notable example is Caravaggio, as historians are relatively certain he died from the disease. 

Medieval Monarchs

Even those at the top of the food chain weren’t safe during medieval times. In fact, many historians agree that being a king or a queen during this period was incredibly dangerous, and on average, these monarchs stood a higher chance of dying compared to a lowly peasant. 

This was because of the constant assassination attempts that monarchs had to face. Whether it was through poison, rebellion, or betrayal, monarchs had a target painted on their backs for their entire lives. 


We are very fortunate none of these hazardous jobs are still available.  Much work has been done by different groups of people to eliminate the hazards and provide more safety for the worker.  Give a thank you today for all of our health care workers, postal workers, workers at grocery stores, and many more who risk their health for us.

View the infographic below for more information on some of the hazardous jobs mentioned above. Note: if you click on the photo you will see a larger image.

Hazardous Jobs
Image provided by Compare Compensation Claims

Featured Image by Tuna Ölger from Pixabay