Imagine entering a bombproof SUV to escort a client to a public appearance, knowing that a very credible threat exists against him or her. Or accompanying a client on a photo shoot where the other models are two large, disgruntled black panthers. For entrepreneur Elijah Shaw, it's all in a day's work.
Shaw and his team at Icon Services Corporation, an executive protection and bodyguard services company, are no strangers to danger.
Whether they're escorting a VIP client, providing security services, or participating in an investigation, Shaw and his employees risk their lives on the job each day. They're not alone. According to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 5,703 fatal work injuries in the U.S. in 2006. Several industries were singled out as being the most dangerous, including commercial fishing, an industry that experienced 141.7 deaths per every 100,000 workers. The career of a pilot is also high-risk, with about 87.8 deaths per 100,000 pilots. Other dangerous industries on in the list were logging, structural iron and steel work, refuse collection and farming.
People who enter potentially lethal businesses understand the inherent risk they're taking. But as psychologist and co-founder of Psychology for Business, Dr. Paul Kenneth Glass points out, certain personalities are attracted to risky jobs. "Some like the challenge and thrill. Some don't anticipate the risks initially, yet see the higher profile of the job as exciting," Glass explains. "Though the frequent response we hear is that they 'want to be where they can help' or 'someone has to do it; why not me?'"
For 34-year-old Shaw, entering the world of security came naturally. "I found and continue to find personal satisfaction in helping others," he says. "I like to think I have achieved a level of training and experience where I have as much control over my safety and the safety of clients as an airplane pilot who takes a plane full of passengers 30,000 feet in the air."
Glass agrees that an attraction to a thrilling day job may be built into an individual's DNA. "Underlying personal characteristics may play a greater role in their decision to seek out life-threatening occupations," says Glass. "Some research demonstrates that this may be partially how their brain is wired."
Business owner Steve Galipeau of Lancaster, New Hampshire, says he's attracted to his career of choice due to his love of problem solving. The 51-year-old entrepreneur founded Commercial Divers Plus, a commercial diving company with his wife, Brenda, in 1998.
"People think commercial divers do it for the money or the adrenalin rush--not so," Galipeau says. "This is very hard work and you mostly work alone underwater. The money is OK, but the really good divers just love doing it."
Galipeau and his crew of less than 15 employees learn to calculate and avert most of the risks involved in their job tasks. But they don't always have complete control, as Galipeau found out while diving for a previous employer. While working on a hydroelectric dam intake with turbines running on both sides of the unit, Galipeau found himself being sucked within 20 feet of a spinning blade. "These turbines take about four to seven minutes to stop--longest minutes of my life," he recalls. "I finally got out, shaking, and took a break. One of the other divers offered to go in to finish, but I knew if I didn't go right back in, my diving career would be over."
While Galipeau's team deals with dangerous machines and the uncontrollable ocean, Shaw and his 36-person staff face the threat of weapons and physical attacks. Currently, Shaw says demand for his company's services has increased due to the high security risks for corporations doing business in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Since our inception in 1998, we have evolved from a company that provided services locally, to nationally and now internationally, including war zones."
Fortunately, neither Icon Services Corporation nor Commercial Divers Plus have experienced the death of an employee, although both understand it's a very high possibility in both of their industries. According to Shaw, licensing and insurance go hand-in-hand in the security world.
"Professional liability insurance is very expensive and is a necessity to meet licensing requirements, but more importantly, to provide coverage for any unforeseen incidents," Shaw says.
Galipeau says he encourages divers to work safely. "I set my standards very high because a failure can be very costly and life-threatening," he says. "We've never had an injury in just over 10 years of being in business," he adds.
But not all high-risk companies can say the same. Over the last 30 years, Dr. Paul Kenneth Glass has worked with construction workers, pilots, truck drivers, law enforcement personnel and firefighters to help them grieve the deaths of co-workers.
"Most high-risk industries and organizations provide substantial training and protections to reduce risks of injury or death; nevertheless, death remains a threat inherent in many of their job responsibilities," says Glass. After the death of a co-worker, one would assume the difficulty for the remaining staff to move on. But according to Glass, "The loss may hit them very hard; yet the nature of 'high-risk jobs' is that they often build resilience. This is an essential ingredient in the life of the 'high-risk' workers," he says. "This is a skill that can be learned and refined to perform well in a dangerous occupation."
Glass says it's important to treasure, respect and support the individuals who put themselves on the line for their job, just like Shaw and Galiepeau. "Consider what the world would do if we did not have these individuals," he says.