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The 7 most dangerous jobs in technology

Employees who risk their lives and mental health

You may not think working in technology could be dangerous, but you'd be wrong. Some professions are particularly perilous, and could even involve you risking your own life. We've rounded up a list of the seven most dangerous jobs in technology.

5. Unregulated e-waste recycling

When you send an old computer or CRT monitor off for recycling, chances are it will end up on a tip halfway around the world rather than being dismantled safely nearby. Used hardware from the industrialised world often travels thousands of miles to developing parts of Asia and Africa.

People hoping to earn a wage collect machines and smash them with crude tools to strip gold, silver, and other precious metals out of circuit boards. They may come into dangerous contact with lead, cadmium, beryllium, mercury, and brominated flame retardants. Some are exposed to more chemical harm by soaking circuit boards in acid, or burning PVC cabling to retrieve copper.

Workers at this e-waste processing center in Bangalore, India, have more protection than others. Credit: Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition

"That has to be one of the most treacherous jobs around, especially in light of the products being handled," says Sheila Davis, head of the non-profit Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.

"We see children in India smashing these monitors with sandals and no protective gear, and exposure to lead can cause significant neurological diseases and learning disabilities."

In addition, inmates in some US prisons are exposed to the same toxic substances in e-waste recycling operations.

The US government doesn't closely track what happens to spent electronics. To prevent your used gear from being recycled under poor working conditions, resell or donate the equipment to someone who will keep it in use.

6. Mining 'conflict minerals'

The eastern Congo is rich in the key ingredients that keep electronics ticking. The area holds tantalum for use in capacitors, tin for circuit-board solder, tungsten to make cell phones vibrate, and gold for connecting components. Despite such natural wealth, tens of thousands (or, by some estimates, hundreds of thousands) of people work in appalling conditions to extract those materials.

"Potentially each and every one of our cell phones, laptop computers, and PCs contains some of these conflict minerals," says Sasha Lezhnev, a researcher for human-rights group Global Witness.

"It's analogous to blood diamonds. You get a bunch of people digging in river streams by hand. Some are carving out a mountain literally. When I went out to the mines, I met many children as young as 11 years old. There were military commanders with AK-47s easily extracting money from everyone who mines."

Armed Congolese groups earn about $180m each year in this trade, while the majority of the people live in poverty. Smugglers take $1bn in materials out of the country every year, according to the Congolese government.

No tech company has been able to audit and certify that all of its products are 'conflict-free', but some - including Intel and Motorola - are taking steps in that direction.

NEXT PAGE: Infrastructure work in war zones

  1. These employees risk their lives
  2. Fixing undersea internet cables
  3. Unregulated e-waste recycling
  4. Infrastructure work in war zones

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