Climbing, Pushing and Pulling, Reaching, Crawling, Stooping: What Job Has It Toughest?

Nobody would argue that construction work is hard work. But where does it fall among the most physically demanding jobs in America?

March 14, 2024


Nobody would argue that construction work is hard work. But where does it fall among the most physically demanding jobs in America?

Not as high as you might think.

At least, that's according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 's Occupational Requirements Survey. The survey was released following a monumental five-year effort to collect nearly 150,000 observations of the physical requirements of about 480 jobs at 56,300 workplaces across the U.S.

Scores of economists from the BLS traveled the country, asking about two hours of questions on the exact requirements of the selected occupations at each business. Among the many details they sought was the need for foot or leg control and the need to interact with the general public.

More than one list resulted from the research. For example, some jobs require the most standing (and least sitting). Then there's the maximum weight workers must lift or carry. And, of course, there is the overarching ranking of the most physically demanding jobs. That list is led by firefighters, followed by first-line supervisors of firefighting and fire prevention workers, roofers, telecommunications equipment installers and repairers (except line installers, and installation/maintenance/repair workers.

Construction laborers rank 20th, after first-line supervisors of police and detectives.

The ranking is based on a median result of scores for climbing, pushing or pulling, reaching out or down, reaching overhead, low postures, crawling, stooping, kneeling, crouching, loud noise, extreme cold, and extreme heat. The only category in which construction laborers scored 100 was "reaching out or down."

When it comes to standing versus sitting, butchers and meat cutters topped the list, standing 99.7 percent of the time. As for construction-related jobs, reinforcing iron and rebar workers ranked 8th, standing 98.6 percent of the time. Drywall and ceiling installers ranked 19th, on their feet 96.4 percent of the time.

On the lifting/carrying scale, firefighters topped the list; they must lift or carry 126 pounds on average. Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers were 8th, at 67 pounds. No construction-related jobs made the top 20 among the wettest jobs in America, though construction laborers ranked eighth among the jobs least likely to require a minimum level of education and not require literacy; cement masons and concrete finishers came in 11th.

All the data is available from the BLS here.