NEW YORK – Workplace deaths fell 17 percent in 2009 to a record low, as construction fatalities declined amid a housing industry slump and unemployment surged to the highest level in a quarter century.

There were 4,340 deaths across all industries, compared with 5,214 a year earlier. Fatalities among private construction firms dropped 16 percent in 2009, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Thursday.

“Economic factors played a major role in the fatal work injury decrease in 2009,” the bureau said.

Construction has “fallen off a cliff,” said Ed Priz, president of Riverside, Ill.-based Advanced Insurance Management, a consulting firm. “It reflects a shift in the kind of work Americans are doing. There are a lot less hazardous jobs.”

Transportation accidents were the most frequent cause of worker deaths for the second year. The number of fatalities involving cars, trucks, airplanes, trains, and other vehicles was 1,682, compared with 2,130 in 2008. About 20 percent of the deaths were on highways.

Fatalities in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting fell to 551 from 672 a year earlier. Deaths in crop production dropped to 278 from 304.

Workplace suicides declined 9.9 percent to 237 last year from a record 263. More people killed themselves at work in 2008 than in any other year since the government started keeping records.