Working got safer last year, according to the government’s annual tally of workplace deaths, released Wednesday.

Nationally, 5,524 workers died on the job in 2002 – a significant decrease from the 5,915 who died in 2001, a number that did not include those killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“It’s the largest year-to-year decline we’ve ever seen,” said Scott Richardson, program manager of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. The bureau began publishing the data in 1992.

The decline extended a downward trend since 1997, when 6,238 workers died. Workplace homicides also declined, down to 609 last year from a 1994 peak of 1,080.

The numbers declined even among Hispanics, who are more likely to work in riskier farm, factory and construction jobs. Even so, Hispanic workers continued to die at a notably higher rate than whites or blacks.

Federal officials also track rates so they can compare various populations and sectors of the work force.

The industries with the highest death rates included logging, fishing, farming and mining.

Overall death rates fell from 4.3 per 100,000 workers in 2001 to 4 workers last year. Blacks were the safest at work: They died at a rate of 3.5 per 100,000 workers, down from 3.8 in 2001. White death rates declined from to 3.9 per 100,000 workers from 4.2 in 2001.

The rate for Hispanics tumbled from 6 per 100,000 workers to 5 last year.

, though the number of deaths among foreign-born Hispanics increased slightly and represented a majority of the deaths to Hispanic workers.

The decline in Hispanic deaths was especially encouraging to federal officials who have watched those numbers steadily increase since the mid-1990s.

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao credited the government’s efforts to reach Spanish-speaking workers. Those efforts include a Spanish-language Web site and the hiring of more Spanish-speaking workers at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Large states including California, Texas and Pennsylvania saw the number of deaths decline between 2001 and 2002; several smaller states, including Oregon, Arkansas and Nebraska, saw their numbers increase.

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AP-ES-09-17-03 2059EDT

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