Construction workplace deaths declined 6.8% in 2011, to 721 from 774 in 2010 and the industry's fatality rate also was down, to 8.9 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, from 9.8 in 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported.

BLS said that the 2011 data in its annual report on fatal occupational injuries, released on Sept. 20, are preliminary. It will issue final numbers for 2011 next spring.

The bureau's data show that the number of construction deaths generally has been on a downward path in recent years. The industry's fatality rates had been hovering in the 9.7-9.9 range, before last year's drop.

Fatality totals for the past five years are: 721 in 2011, 774 in 2010, 834 in 2009, 975 in 2008 and 1,204 in 2007.

Construction's fatality rates are: 8.9 in 2011, 9.8  in 2010, 9.9 in 2009, 9.7 in 2008 and 10.8 in 2007.

The rates are a better yardstick of the industry's safety picture because they adjust for the significant post-recession drop in construction employment.

For all industry sectors last year, there were 4,609 workplace fatalities, down from 4,690 the year before. The preliminary 2011 national fatality rate was 3.5, compared with 3.6 in 2010, BLS said. Labor Dept. Secretary Hilda L. Solis said the 2011 numbers represent "a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done."