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Dangerous professions

When terrorism struck Mumbai last month, it didn’t succeed in crushing the city’s spirit for too long. But, as it took place in south Mumbai — home to the chattering classes — it did drive a lot of people to psychiatrists and stress counsellors. The rank and file of the city are too busy working to have the time to go to shrinks.

Yet depression associated with terrorism does affect everybody to some degree. “You wish it away, you try and forget about it,” says Mumbai-based HR consultant D. Singh. “But when you realise you have been walking past a live bomb for several days — as happened with an undiscovered cache of RDX at the main VT station — you start wondering if any job is worth it.” Is it better to get back home — Mumbai is a city of migrants — and settle for a perhaps poorer but more peaceful existence?

This is a question many people who are in dangerous professions ask themselves. According to UK Life insurer Risk Placement Services, the most dangerous professions are those of a steeplejack / scaffolder; demolition, bomb disposal or mine clearance expert; pilot; diver; oil or gas rigger; deep-sea fisherman / trawlerman; and professional racing car / motorbike rider or powerboat racer.

The list is based on the insurance premium charged. A US list, based on Bureau of Labour statistics, is somewhat different. The top 10 most dangerous jobs (based on fatality rates) are those of: fishers and related fisher workers; logging workers; aircraft pilots and flight engineers; structural iron and steel workers; farmers and ranchers; roofers; electrical power-line installers and repairers; drivers / sales workers and truck drivers; refuse and recyclable material collectors; and police and sheriff's patrol officers.

Look at some of these professions and their Indian equivalents. A refuse and recyclable material collector is basically a garbage collector and you don’t need a translation for police. These professions are amongst the lowest paid in India. Nor is there much thrill in life in being a dustman.

Dangerous jobs are one thing; stressful jobs quite another. There are some professions in common (see box). But, by and large, danger does not necessary equal stress. When the two combine — as with the police — that would be a profession one needs give a wide berth to. Incidentally the waiter — who has a place on the stress list — is also near the bottom of the best-paid ladder. A US survey puts him at 247 on a list of 250. So that’s probably the worst of both worlds.

“Terror has not yet been effectively factored into these rankings,” says Singh. “One reason is that terror attacks are not so frequent in the West, if you ignore school shooting and random gun crimes. In places like India, surveys are few and far between.”

According to Singh, attacks such as the one on Mumbai add to the overall stress level and, of course, danger. Professions such as bomb disposal and police were dangerous anyway. Hotel staff may have nightmares because the attacks were targeted at the Taj and the Oberoi. But for them, the danger and stress levels have increased by about as much as it has for the city’s suburban rail commuters.

While trick cyclists and shrinks may have private prescriptions for the rich, About.com gives a more general set of 10 tips for coping with the stress of terrorism. Among them are: talk about it; maintain your normal routine; avoid xenophobia; don’t waste time on guilt; and limit exposure to media coverage.

The last point is being avidly debated today. Newspapers hit you once a day; TV and websites are 24-hour operations. As the government has been claiming, the viragos on TV may be more dangerous than they appear to be.

STRESS TEST

The 10 most stressful jobs

Inner city high school teacher

Police officer

Miner

Air traffic controller

Medical intern

Stockbroker

Journalist

Customer service / complaint worker

Secretary

Waiter

The 10 most dangerous jobs

Fishers and related fisher workers

Logging workers

Pilots and flight engineers

Structural iron and steel workers

Farmers and ranchers

Roofers

Electrical power-line installers and repairers

Drivers / sales workers and truck drivers

Refuse and recyclable material collectors

Police and sheriff’s patrol officers

Source: Survey by Health magazine in the US; and US Bureau of Labour

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