Most of us think that we have the most difficult and stressful jobs in the world. But if you’re sat at a desk working a 9-to-5 job, you probably have it pretty good. Here, we take a look at the toughest and most demanding professions in the world.
The reason why many people decide to pursue these physical roles and emotionally demanding career paths is the reward they feel once they have completed their job, knowing they have made a positive impact on society.
Let’s take a look at the top hardest jobs in the world.
Or watch the video of the top 10 below:
40. Sanitation worker
Average annual salary: $30,320
Sanitation workers are faced with horrible stenches and unsanitary environments. Their work hours can be difficult too, with some working from 7pm to 3am in all kinds of weather. They often face heckles from drunk citizens and verbal harassment in some cases, but they push through for the hefty wage. CNN reported that two workers, a garbage truck driver and a helper in the USA, earned $112,000 and $100,000, respectively.
Average annual salary: $31,470
A bodyguard is essentially paid to serve as a human shield for politicians, celebrities and businesspeople. They protect their charges from things like theft, assault, kidnapping, homicide, harassment, loss of confidential information, threats and other criminal offences. It’s extremely tough when you don’t know what to expect and need to be ready to react within seconds.
38. Ambulance driver
Average annual salary: $33,570
Ambulance drivers are responsible for transporting emergency personnel to accident scenes as well as patients back to hospitals. Their job can be extremely stressful, as it requires swift yet careful maneuvering through traffic, as each second that passes can be crucial to the patient’s survival.
It’s common for employers to require ambulance drivers to be certified in CPR or basic life support.
37. Alaskan crab fisherman
Average annual salary: $34,730
Often described as the most dangerous job in the world, crab fishing involves long hours at rough seas searching for crabs. Weather conditions are arduous, and conditions on board can be grueling.
Fishermen are required to work for up to 24 hours non-stop searching for crabs, and if there are none to be caught, there is no money to be made. But a good catch can earn tens of thousands of dollars in one month, so if you have what it takes, you may be in a position to earn a great deal of money.
36. Mountain guide
Average annual salary: $37,790
Between the rocks, glaciers and slippery slopes, mountain guiding can be an extremely challenging job. It’s physically demanding, and you need a lot of stamina to climb mountains day in and day out. You also have to be an outgoing and social person, as you’ll be in charge of everyone’s safety and enjoyment on the trip.
35. Wildlife photographer
Average annual salary: $38,950
Wildlife photographers shoot photographs of wild animals and plants in their natural environments. They often have to travel far and frequently, and familiarize themselves with various cultures, terrains and climates.
Though a portion of these photographers work as freelancers, many find employment with publications that center on wildlife content.
34. E-waste recycler
Average annual salary: $42,780
E-waste recycling can be a hazardous job when completed in an unsafe environment, with workers inhaling harmful toxins on a daily basis. According to Forbes, “only 25% of total e-waste is being collected for recycling — most are discarded in landfills or incinerators, releasing dangerous toxins into the land and air. While e-waste represents just 2% of America’s trash in landfills, it equals 70% of overall toxic waste.”
Average annual salary: $46,330
If you have great physical strength and enjoy being in nature, then this dangerous profession could be for you! Loggers strap on hard equipment to help them cut down large trees. While this might sound simple, it has to be done in harsh weather conditions, making it unpredictable to determine how a tree will fall.
Average annual salary: $46,350
Scaffolders are responsible for staggering temporary structures to support construction on a building. They need to lay this structure from the ground up and ensure it’s safe and sturdy for workers and materials — a big no-no for anyone afraid of heights.
31. Metal crafter
Average annual salary: $46,640
Metal crafters have one of the most difficult jobs in the world. Besides dealing with the obvious things like heat and metal, these workers typically experience negative health effects in the long term due to inhaling various chemicals that they’re exposed to.
Average annual salary: $47,110
The physical strain of working on a roof all day makes this a tough job. Besides the fear of falling, roofers also deal with adverse weather conditions, from intense heat and potential heatstroke to harsh winds and rain.
29. Prison warden
Average annual salary: $47,920
The role of a prison warden is extremely stressful, as they’re responsible for managing a large group of convicted criminals. As you can imagine, the work environment is not exactly safe, with them being surrounded by offenders, and can thus be highly demanding.
28. Brick mason
Average annual salary: $48,040
Working as a brick mason requires a lot of physical strength and stamina! The job involves plenty of heavy lifting and maneuvering of substantial materials. All work is conducted outdoors, making it even more challenging in intense heat or wet weather.
Average annual salary: $48,260
Being a carpenter is not only physically but also mentally challenging. First, you must plan out the work that you’ll do, whether it’s tiling a floor or building a bookshelf. Then, you must figure out the correct measurements before deciding what tools you will use. Many people find this an extremely rewarding job and also well-paying.
26. Truck driver
Average annual salary: $48,310
Driving heavy-duty vehicles for over eight hours a day can be tiresome. You need to have all eyes on the road at all times, which can be extremely tiring, and you’ll spend long hours on your own. The pay is not the best, but it’s not that difficult to get into this profession.
25. Search and rescue worker
Average annual salary: $48,740
Working for a search and rescue team can be extremely difficult. To succeed in this career, you must be able to think on your feet and have great attention to detail. Whether it’s the Coast Guard facing high seas or a mountain rescue team facing subzero temperatures at night, search and rescue workers must be able to work fast under extreme circumstances.
24. Public safety telecommunicator
Average annual salary: $49,370
Imagine: You answer a call and have to calm down someone who’s distraught so you can determine what and where an emergency is, or you answer a call and your actions mean life or death for the person you’re speaking to. Mentally, that must be really difficult to deal with. In fact, the 2019 Virginia Public Safety Mental Health Pilot Survey found that nearly 8% of first responders admitted to thoughts of suicide, compared to only 3% for the general US population, which shows this truly is a difficult job.
Average annual salary: $50,160
While working in the food industry might not be physically challenging, it’s mentally challenging. Trying to give guidance to the rest of the kitchen staff and cook tons of orders with hazards all around can take a toll on anyone!
Average annual salary: $50,700
The role of a firefighter is to protect the lives of the general public during potentially life-threatening situations. They are on call 24/7 to respond to emergencies, including car crashes, water rescue, chemical spills and, of course, fires. The job is challenging, dangerous and often incredibly stressful, but provides high levels of job satisfaction.
21. Oil rig worker
Average annual salary: $52,100
This is a physically and mentally taxing job that involves long hours in a challenging and hostile environment. Jobs can vary from cleaner to painter right through to driller or tool pusher. Wages are often calculated on an hourly basis with accommodation and meals included. The typical work schedule will involve working on the rig for six weeks, followed by six weeks of leave.
There is great potential to make a substantial amount of money, and so the risk associated with oil rig work is often downplayed by those wanting to earn a high salary.
20. Diamond driller
Average annual salary: $53,600
This job comes with its dangers, including being in confined spaces and dealing with equipment that’s capable of causing serious injury. Not only that, but you’ll also be lifting huge amounts of weight, which comes with its own hazards. Although it’s a well-paid job, it’s definitely one of the more dangerous occupations out there.
19. Child protective services social worker
Average annual salary: $56,680
This isn’t necessarily a physically demanding job, but it can take its toll mentally. A child protective services social worker will have to work in some high-stress situations while dealing with (potentially) volatile people — all while trying to do the best that they can for the child they’re concerned about. This job can be a case of life or death for the child, and that’s a very difficult burden to bear.
18. Iron and steel worker
Average annual salary: $57,160
Most iron and steel workers unload and erect fabricated iron members from the skeleton of a structure. Dealing with heavy materials and dangerous tools all day is extremely challenging on the mind and body.
Average annual salary: $58,640
Mining is one of the toughest jobs in the world. It requires extracting ore, coal and other minerals from the earth using specialist equipment. While underground miners use tunnels to reach mineral deposits, surface miners remove overlying rock and soil to do so.
The job has its fair share of mental and physical demands and exposes workers to hazards such as noise, vibrations and airborne carcinogens.
Average annual salary: $58,900
Morticians are forced to face death every day, having to prepare the deceased for burial. This includes cleaning, embalming, grooming and dressing them. Also, they tend to work long and irregular hours, supporting the family of the deceased.
Average annual salary: $61,030
Being a teacher is definitely a difficult job, as not only are you molding the minds of the next generation but you’re also working after hours creating lesson plans and marking student work. They sometimes also come across situations where children are in danger, and they’re responsible for reporting this in order to protect the children in their care.
14. Explosive ordnance disposal specialists
Average annual salary: $61,560
These specialists are responsible for safely detonating or diffusing live bombs. The pressure (and dangers) they face daily are immense, meaning it deserves a place on the list of the most difficult jobs. Whether it’s the red wire or the blue wire, I don’t think I’d be able to handle making the decision.
13. Forensic science technician
Average annual salary: $61,930
Forensic science technicians are responsible for collecting evidence at crime scenes. Although they’re covered from head to toe in personal protective equipment, it doesn’t protect them from what they see. Imagine investigating and collecting evidence in these gruesome crime scenes day in day out — I’m sure there are some scenes that are extremely difficult to deal with.
12. Cell tower climber
Average annual salary: $62,570
Tower climbing is one of the deadliest jobs in the world. According to an experienced cell tower climber, Joe Poulin, many dangers come with this job: “If you’re putting things on the tower and someone isn’t paying attention, they could crush your hand. Or if you’re on the ground, tools or equipment could fall on your head. You could fall. You could get struck by lightning. There’s a long list of stuff that could go wrong.”
11. Water transportation worker
Average annual salary: $62,760
Water transportation workers are in charge of directing and maintaining ships that are used to move cargo overseas. This job requires plenty of expertise, as a small mistake can cause a fatal outcome. Water conditions are also unpredictable, adding pressure onto an already stressful job.
10. Military personnel
Average annual salary: $65,160
All military roles have their difficulties, but challenging roles such as a Marine and mercenary are among the hardest in the world. These positions require soldiers to put their lives at risk on a daily basis. However, the high paycheck can make up for the serious stress and possible trauma that may result.
9. Combat engineer
Average annual salary: $65,160
Also known as pioneers or sappers, combat engineers are soldiers who carry out military engineering tasks to support combat operations. These include demolishing or creating barriers, digging trenches, constructing bridges and clearing explosives.
8. Police officer
Average annual salary: $66,020
Being a police officer can be very challenging, with officers receiving a lot of stick from disruptive citizens. They don’t know what type of crime they will face during the day, and often put their lives on the line to make their country a better place. Although a tough profession, knowing you have contributed to a good cause is very gratifying.
Average annual salary: $71,870
Being a stuntperson can be one of the most challenging careers to pursue, from jumping off buildings to being set on fire. Dean Foster, a professional stuntman, says: “You’re standing there on the edge ready to jump, and your whole body and mind are going ‘Don’t do this. You do this, and you’re going to die.’” Yet, despite the danger, it’s what he’s wanted to do ever since a child and loves the adrenaline rush of the job.
Average annual salary: $73,060
Farmers spend long hours dealing with large animals and work in intensive, all-weather conditions. It’s not all agricultural, either; self-employed farmers need to be adept at selling their produce and balancing budgets. Being a farmer is a profession that is tough on your mental and physical state, but many talk about how satisfying their job is.
5. Healthcare worker
Average annual salary: $91,100
Whether you’re a nurse, surgeon, paramedic or doctor, your job is going to be difficult! Each day is different, and you never know what to expect. Regardless the hardship, this job is among the most rewarding in the world, too!
Average annual salary: $95,310
Scientists face daily challenges during their discoveries; while conducting research, they may come into an issue that was not expected and that they’ll need to resolve. It’s even more pressing when they’re faced with a deadline for making discoveries, like the scientists working hard to create new vaccines.
Average annual salary: $100,000
Astronauts must be physically fit and able to withstand the mental isolation of long missions in space. The environment is often stressful and, in a crisis, astronauts must demonstrate the ability to stay calm under pressure. But the job brings with it a great deal of satisfaction. Imagine looking down on Earth from space, knowing that you’re one of the few to live this experience.
2. Air traffic controller
Average annual salary: $129,750
Air traffic controllers are responsible for monitoring and coordinating air traffic as well as takeoffs, approaches and landings at airports. To do this, they use sophisticated radars and communication systems, passing on information to pilots and flight crew.
Given the thousands of lives they’re responsible for on the daily, it’s common for air traffic controllers to experience a high level of stress. Their services are also needed around the clock and on holidays, so they often don’t get the best work–life balance.
Naturally, all of this is reflected in what they earn!
Average annual salary: $202,180
Being a pilot is one of the toughest professions; in addition to always being on the go, airline pilots also must deal with weather delays, disgruntled or unruly passengers, and exposure to cosmic radiation. Despite anticipated job growth, competition for jobs at major airlines is fierce, making it difficult for many to jump up the ladder from a regional airline to a top carrier.
So, there you have it: the top 40 hardest jobs in the world. The difficulty of a job role is largely dependent on the work environment and physical pressures, but there are many jobs out there which are just as mentally challenging.
To recap, these are the 10 hardest jobs:
Are you considering going into any of these professions? Surprised by any of the hard jobs in our list? Let us know in the comments section below.
Originally published on September 20, 2016. Updated by Electra Michaelidou and Hayley Ramsey.