Construction workplace deaths continued to decline in 2009, but the fatality rate held even with the previous year’s mark, and industry safety specialists see little sign that conditions are improving on project sites nationwide.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest annual census of fatal occupational injuries, released on Aug. 19, shows construction deaths last year totaled 816, down 16% from 975 in 2008.

But with the volume of construction work in a slump, the industry’s fatality rate last year was the same as 2008’s level, at 9.7 per 100,000 full-time workers. BLS reported that construction hours worked fell 17% in 2009, after a 10% drop the previous year.

Although the industry has seen minor improvements, fatality rates have remained relatively flat, says Janie Gittleman, associate director for safety and health research at CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training (formerly known as The Center to Protect Workers’ Rights). The organization is an affiliate of the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Dept.

“The bottom line is that little has been invested to help change these rates,” Gittleman says. “There’s a lot more than needs to be done.”

Construction deaths declined 16% but fatality rate held at 9.7 per 100,000 workers.

She also notes that U.S. construction fatality rates rank below those of other industrialized countries. For example, Canada’s 2005 rate was 5.0, she says.

Researchers generally consider fatality rates to be the most accurate measure of safety performance because misreporting of incidents is less likely than with non-fatal injuries.

BLS notes that its 2009 fatality numbers are preliminary and are likely to increase when it issues its final 2009 report, in April 2011.