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Britain’s scariest jobs

If giving a presentation at work brings you out in a cold sweat, think what it must be like to be a high-rise window cleaner or be faced with dead bodies, cockroach infestations or even unexploded bombs on a daily basis…

1. High-rise window cleaner
A fear of heights (or acrophobia to give it the proper name) affects many of us. If climbing the loft ladder leaves you wobbly-of-leg, imagine what it must be like to abseil down London’s 1,000ft Shard. The 95-floor building is fully clad in glass, which means there are a lot of windows to be cleaned – and only a few well placed ropes to keep workers in place.

How to become one: While no qualifications are required to work as a window cleaner, you will need training (and usually a certificate) in order to work at heights and use power-operated access equipment or abseiling techniques. The Industrial Rope Access Trade Association (IRATA) runs courses that are internationally recognised by employers and insurance companies. A Level 1 entry level course lasts a minimum of five days and is assessed by an independent IRATA assessor – once gained this certificate allows you to perform a specified range of rope access tasks under supervision. For more information visit:

2. Embalmer
Along with taxes, death is an inescapable part of life – and while it may not appeal to everyone, a career within the funeral services is at least recession-proof. Embalmers use specialist skills to preserve the body and present it as well as possible (which includes doing hair and make-up), before the funeral. While there’s no ‘gore’ involved, those of a squeamish disposition or aversion to dead bodies need not apply.

How to become one: Employers may ask for GCSEs (A-C) and most would expect you to be working towards, or already be, a member of The British Institute of Embalmers (BIOE). To become a student member of the BIOE you need to pass the Foundation Module (there are a number of accredited courses around the UK) before going on to take modules in anatomy, physiology, bacteriology, embalming chemistry and practical embalming. There is an exam after each module and two practical exams, which most people study for part time over two years. For an accredited list of courses visit:

3. Forensic entomologist
If working with dead bodies sounds scary, spare a thought for forensic entomologists whose job it is to study insects – most typically blowflies and their larvae (maggots to you and me) – on a human corpse to help determine time since death. That’s not even to mention the gruesomeness of dealing with decomposing bodies or the upsetting nature of crime scenes.

How to become one: There is no obvious career path – but one route would be to become an entomologist and then branch into forensics. The Imperial College London offers a Masters in Entomology – open to those with a first degree in subjects such as agriculture, biological sciences, conservation, forestry and zoology. Several universities offer courses in forensics. The Forensic Science Service, which used to be the biggest employer in the industry for England and Wales, closed earlier this year. Forensic scientists are now primarily employed by private companies and individual police forces.

4. Pest control officer
While most of us would run a mile faced with a rat or cockroach infestation, pest control technicians are exposed to some appalling conditions (and rancid smells) on a daily basis. Using toxic chemicals, setting traps and disposing of dead or captured animals puts a ‘strong stomach’ high up on the list of desirable qualities.

How to become one: While employers may not always ask for formal qualifications you will be expected to undertake on-the-job training and study for pest control qualifications; in larger companies these may be held in-house. The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), British Pest Control Association (BPCA) and the National Pest Technicians’ Association (NPTA) provide training courses. The main entry-level qualification is the Level 2 Award/Certificate in Pest Management. You can then go on to take more advanced qualifications or take a course to specialise in a particular type of pest.

5. EOD Bomb disposal engineer
There’s only one thing more terrifying than bombs dropping overhead – and that’s knowing one may explode any moment. Bomb disposal engineers safely dispose of unexploded shells and bombs on the battlefield after the fighting is over. In peacetime, their expertise may be used to clear areas and uncover illegal arms and explosives in counter-terrorist searches.

How to become one: Before you can become a bomb disposal specialist, you must first complete soldier or officer training, combat engineer training and then trade training, according to the Ministry of Defence. You can then ask to specialise in bomb disposal. Once selected you will undertake a four-week course, which will teach you how to recognise various types of bomb and ammunition, make them safe and dispose of them. After further experience and promotion you can undertake a four-week intermediate course which will enable you to carry out the duties of the second-in-command of a bomb disposal team.

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