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CLAIRTON, Pa. — Early on the morning of Sept. 3, 2009, Nicholas Adrian Revetta left the Pittsburgh suburb of Pleasant Hills and drove 15 minutes to a job at U.S. Steel’s Clairton Plant, a soot-blackened industrial complex on the Monongahela River. He never returned home.

Nick Revetta, right, with his brother Patrick.  (Courtesy of Patrick Revetta)

Stocky and stoic, Revetta was working that Thursday as a laborer for a U.S. Steel contractor at the same plant that employed his brother, for the same company that had employed his late father. Shortly before 11:30 a.m., gas leaking from a line in the plant’s Chemicals and Energy Division found an ignition source and exploded, propelling Revetta backward into a steel column and inflicting a fatal blow to his head. Thirty-two years old, he left behind a wife and two young children.

Nick Revetta’s death did not make national headlines. No hearings were held into the accident that killed him. No one was fired or sent to jail.

Revetta was among 4,551 people killed on the job in America in 2009, carnage that eclipsed the total number of U.S. fatalities in the nine-year Iraq war. Combine the victims of traumatic injuries with the estimated 50,000 people who die annually of work-related diseases and it’s as if a fully loaded Boeing 737-700 crashed every day. Yet the typical fine for a worker death is about $7,900.

“These deaths take place behind closed doors,” says Michael Silverstein, recently retired head of Washington State’s workplace safety agency. “They occur one or two at a time, on private property. There’s an invisibility element.”

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, American workers are entitled to “safe and healthful” conditions. Nick Revetta’s death and the events that followed lay bare the law’s limitations, showing how safety can yield to speed, how even fatal accidents can have few consequences for employers, and how federal investigations can be cut short by what some call a de facto quota system.

In the Revetta case, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration — OSHA — failed to issue even a minor citation to U.S. Steel, the world’s 12th-largest steelmaker and an economic leviathan in Western Pennsylvania. The company paid no fine, although current and former workers say that U.S. Steel’s contractors — including Revetta’s employer, Power Piping Co. — faced intense pressure to finish their work.

OSHA did look into Revetta’s death, as required by law. Michael Laughlin, a safety inspector from the agency’s Pittsburgh office, spent more than two months on the case, working tirelessly to find the cause of the explosion. Yet emails obtained by the Center for Public Integrity show that Laughlin’s requests for help went unanswered, and he was pulled off the investigation by a supervisor striving to meet inspection goals.

“My problem is at what point do we give up quality for quantity,” Laughlin wrote in an appeal to a higher-ranking OSHA official in Philadelphia in November 2009. “I need some guidance because I’m torn and my spirit is broken because of the need to complete this case to the best of my ability.”

The official advised Laughlin to “relax” and use the weekend to “go out and hit some [golf] balls!”

In the end, OSHA penalized only an insulation contractor that had been working in the area of the explosion. The contractor paid $10,763 in fines unrelated to the blast and was not implicated in Revetta’s death.

“The OSHA investigation that was done missed the point,” says John Gismondi, a lawyer who represents Nick Revetta’s wife, Maureen, in a lawsuit against U.S. Steel. “It wasn’t the right type of investigation. They spent all their time on penny-ante stuff. How do you have a situation where all the pipes are owned or maintained by U.S. Steel, you have an explosion, a guy is killed and you have no violation? How is that possible?”

“I’m upset with U.S. Steel,” says Maureen Revetta, 34, “but I think I’m angrier with OSHA. They’re the government agency that’s supposed to keep people safe … It just seemed like they purposely didn’t want to fine U.S. Steel.”

A Labor Day parade in Pittsburgh in 2009 was dedicated to Nick Revetta. (Courtesy of Patrick Revetta)

Ten months after her husband’s death, a second explosion rocked the Clairton Plant, sending 17 workers to the hospital. OSHA blamed the accident on a contractor shortcut approved by U.S. Steel, an allegation the company is contesting.

In a written statement to the Center for Public Integrity, OSHA said it conducted a “thorough investigation” of Nick Revetta’s death. “It was determined [that] there was insufficient factual evidence that could support the issuance of citations specifically related to the root cause of the incident.”

David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, would not talk about the Revetta case; nor would Robert Szymanski, head of OSHA’s Pittsburgh Area Office. Edward Selker, the now-retired OSHA deputy regional administrator who urged inspector Laughlin to go hit golf balls, did not return calls to his home. A U.S. Steel spokeswoman declined to comment. In a court filing, the company denied any negligence in the case.

The silence has shaken Revetta’s former co-workers. “It just hasn’t gone away,” says John Straub, a U.S. Steel employee who has worked in Clairton since 1979. “Nobody has really explained to us exactly what happened. They tell us they don’t know what the ignition source was. I was working in that same area a couple of weeks before the explosion. I look back and say, ‘That could have been me.’ “

‘A ton of heat’

The recession has made American workplaces seem safer than they are. In 2008, the year before Nick Revetta was killed, 5,200 people perished on the job. A decade earlier, the toll exceeded 6,000. The soft economy, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes, has led to fewer workers and fewer hours in high-risk industries such as construction. Even so, the latest government tally — 4,690 worker deaths in 2010, up 3 percent from 2009 — is sobering. The U.S. workplace fatality rate remains roughly six times that of the United Kingdom, which has stricter safety rules.

It would take the perpetually short-staffed OSHA 130 years to inspect every workplace in the U.S. Managers and their underlings must strike a balance between meeting “performance goals” set in Washington and conducting comprehensive inspections when deaths occur. A target of 42,250 inspections nationwide was established for fiscal year 2012, up 5.6 percent from the previous year’s goal. The number of federal inspectors, meanwhile, has stayed mostly flat; there were 1,118 in February 2012.

In a statement, OSHA said it “does not set strict inspection quotas. The Agency does, however, set inspection goals — and they are just goals — in order to monitor and manage our activities. We do not believe that these inspection goals preclude the Agency from doing a thorough inspection.”

Others aren’t so sure.

“They called them goals, but you were definitely expected to make your numbers — that was the term of art,” says David DiTommaso, a former OSHA area director in Montana. “If you didn’t, you had to have a reason and you would be judged on it.”

In August 2011, with the federal fiscal year nearing a close, an unidentified safety supervisor in OSHA’s Region 3 office, covering Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C., urged inspectors to step up their pace and not get bogged down in the minutiae of complex cases, including those involving deaths and serious injuries.

“As per our calculations this morning, we need an average of 14 inspections opened per week,” wrote the supervisor, whose name was removed from an email obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.

The supervisor went on: “Essentially, do what you gotta do to stay gainfully employed. It’s great to be caught up, but we only have a short window to open enough inspections to make all of our goals. I suppose you could say, ‘it’s not my problem’ but I can’t guarantee there wouldn’t be a ton of heat coming down from the RO [regional office] on any office that falls short. We are going to be getting a new RA [regional administrator] soon and being perceived as ‘slackers’ is not a good first impression. I know how difficult all of the accidents/fatalities/sig [significant] cases have been on everyone but that won’t likely be taken into consideration when the clock strikes October” — the beginning of the new fiscal year. One OSHA official referred to the supervisor’s email as a “Quota System threat.”

Other OSHA emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal the numbers-driven pressures that existed in Pittsburgh after Nick Revetta’s death.

In a message to then-deputy regional administrator Selker two months after the first Clairton explosion, inspector Laughlin acknowledged that “goals must be met” but said the Revetta case was “clearly not done.” His bosses nonetheless directed him to end the investigation. (Laughlin died in January after being struck by a car.)

A chart dated two days after Revetta’s death shows that OSHA’s Region 3 was easily surpassing its counterparts in the numbers game. With the fiscal year coming to an end, the region was ahead of its goal by 245 inspections. In an email four days later, Selker complimented Szymanski and other managers in Pittsburgh for the “very encouraging and impressive inspection stats … We are very well positioned to make sure all FY2009 inspections are ‘cleaned up’ and issued by 9/30/2009. This will allow a good quick and clean start to what appears will be a challenging FY2010. We can hit the ground running and get off to a good start in the first quarter instead of playing catch-up. If we can hold our own in the first quarter, it will make the rest of the year much less tense.”

Patrick and Maureen

Nick Revetta’s older brother, Patrick, is tall and solidly built, with grey stubble. Forty years old, he lives 11 miles from Clairton but has tried to avoid the place since Nick’s accident. He made an exception one bitterly cold day in January 2011. After pointing out Neil C. Brown Stadium, where he played quarterback for the Clairton High School Bears, he drove past a string of deserted businesses on his way to U.S. Steel’s hulking Clairton Plant on the Monongahela River.

Nick and Maureen Revetta (Courtesy of Maureen Revetta)

Clairton, a city of 6,800 about 15 miles south of downtown Pittsburgh, has seen better days. In 1980, U.S. Steel employed nearly 5,000 at the Clairton Works, as it was then known, where coal is superheated in ovens and turned into coke, a key ingredient in steel. Though the plant remains a major employer, its staffing has dropped by three-quarters, not counting contract workers. Almost one-quarter of the city’s residents and nearly half of its children live in poverty.

The Revetta brothers and their sister, Kathy, grew up in Clairton the 1970s and ’80s. “This place was booming,” Patrick recalls. Nick was the “spitting image” of his father Adrian, who worked for Power Piping Co., a construction and fabrication contractor. “They walked alike. They were built the same way — like bulls, basically,” Patrick says. Adrian got Nick a job at Power Piping; Nick would work there for 11 years.

Nick and Patrick grew exceptionally close after their mother, Patricia, died of cancer in 1991. “He was like a son to me,” Patrick says. “He drank his first beer with me at my college. I took him everywhere. I raised him.”

Nick met Maureen Mulligan in 1994, when they were 17, and they married nine years later. Their son Nick was born in 2005, their daughter Gianna in 2008. The children’s names were tattooed on their father’s right arm, along with the word Italia, a nod to his heritage.

Thin and well-spoken, Maureen is a special education and speech teacher. She struggles to raise the children without their father. Six-year-old Nick craves male attention. “When [the accident] happened, he was 4 ½,” Maureen says. “I don’t think he knew people died. I said, ‘Daddy got hurt at work and he’s never coming home.’ ”

The Clairton Plant is the largest operation of its kind in the country, with 12 clusters of coke ovens, known as batteries, which produce 4.7 million tons of the carbon-rich fuel annually. At the depth of the recession, in early 2009, coke prices were depressed and activity in Clairton was sluggish. As prices began to rebound that year, “there was a mad rush to get everything up and running again,” Patrick says.

Nick was caught in that rush. Power Piping was brought in to help refurbish gas processing equipment. “You could see it every day,” says Patrick, a U.S. Steel employee whose job at the time was to help control emissions from the coke oven batteries. “There was just too much pressure. They had to have that production, man. Nick, he kept telling me they were shortcutting stuff, putting pressure on them to hurry up and get the job finished. I said, ‘Just watch your ass.’”

OSHA inspector Laughlin’s voluminous notes reflect the frenetic work environment experienced by U.S. Steel contractors such as Power Piping. “They were pushing the manpower … U.S. Steel pushing … pushing people,” Laughlin wrote while transcribing one worker interview.

The winter before he was killed, Nick logged 60 days straight at the Clairton Plant. “He was very proud of his job, proud of providing for his family,” Maureen says. “He never complained about working.” Subdued among strangers, animated among friends, Nick had few hobbies outside his family time. “I never really worried about his safety,” Maureen says. “Then, one morning about two weeks before he died, he said, ‘I don’t think you know what a dangerous place I work at.’ ”

Around the same time, Patrick recalls, Nick complained that there were gas “leaks all over the place” in a part of the plant’s Chemicals and Energy Division known as the No. 2 control room. “I always knew somebody would get killed inside that place,” Patrick says, “but I never thought in a million years it would be my baby brother.”

Four days before Labor Day 2009, Nick and a co-worker were given a routine assignment. They were to repair concrete pillars supporting the dormant B Cold Box, a pipe-filled structure the size of a storage pod in the No. 2 control room. The box is part of a cryogenic process used to separate “light oil” containing benzene, xylene and toluene from coke oven gas; the chemical byproducts in the oil are then sold.

Nick was standing near the box, getting ready to mix grout, when, at 11:26 a.m., an explosion sent him hurtling backward into a column. He appears to have died instantly. A foreman at the plant later told OSHA inspector Laughlin that it looked like Nick had been buried in a snow drift, the “snow” being piles of white, fluffy insulation blown from the B Cold Box.

At the moment of the blast, Patrick was coming off his shift at the plant’s B Battery, maybe 100 yards away. “I heard a loud arcing noise,” he recalls. “I turned in that direction and saw the flash and heard the explosion.” He called Nick three times on his cell phone but got no answer.

Patrick ran to the lunch trailer and encountered Nick’s boss, who said Nick was unaccounted for. Then he saw his brother being carried out on a stretcher. Patrick’s chest grew tight, his breathing labored. He thought he was having a heart attack and was taken by ambulance to the plant clinic.

Eventually, a U.S. Steel worker who’d found Nick told Patrick his brother was dead. Patrick began cursing everyone within earshot, then went straight to Jefferson Regional Medical Center, where Nick had been taken. He asked to see his brother’s clothing, which was “soaking wet. You could smell the benzene.” He saw no signs of trauma: “There wasn’t a burn mark on him.”

Although an autopsy would establish the cause of death as blunt-force trauma to the head and trunk, Maureen also detected no evidence of serious injury when she saw Nick’s body that afternoon. “He looked perfect,” she says, “except for a little red line on his nose.”

The investigation

Mike Laughlin was dispatched to the Clairton Plant about two and a half hours after the explosion. A heavyset Army veteran with a thick grey mustache, Laughlin had investigated dozens of fatal accidents since joining OSHA in 1990.

Rose Bezy, vice president of United Steelworkers Local 1557, which represents about 1,200 U.S. Steel workers in Clairton, joined Laughlin as he picked his way through the debris around the demolished B Cold Box. “The guy was relentless,” Bezy says. “He was all over the place.”

U.S. Steel officials followed Laughlin as he worked. “Whenever he would take a picture,” Bezy says, “there would be a U.S. Steel guy with a camera, taking the same picture.” Three well-dressed corporate security officials from Pittsburgh appeared at the plant several hours after the accident, Bezy says, and forbade Clairton managers from sitting in on interviews with lower-level employees, as would customarily occur. “It looked to me like U.S. Steel’s own managers were intimidated,” she says.

Laughlin realized early in the Revetta investigation that he needed help navigating complex federal rules detailing the steps companies must take to prevent catastrophic fires, explosions and chemical releases. He kept pressing Pittsburgh area director Szymanski to pair him with someone who had expertise in this “process safety management” protocol. OSHA has several hundred inspectors nationwide with such specialized training, two in Pittsburgh. These specialists can draw conclusions from mangled pipes and burned-out vessels—clues likely to be missed by generalists like Laughlin.

Laughlin made his initial request for help not quite two weeks after Revetta’s death. Former OSHA managers say the request should have been granted. “It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that you have an explosion where one of your [inspectors] is asking for help and you don’t give it to him,” says Dave May, a former OSHA area director in New Hampshire who oversaw some 100 death investigations. “In a fatality you bend over backwards to get the help.”

DiTommaso, the former Montana area director, says, “In a situation like [the Revetta accident], we would have got a team in there. You would call the regional administrator and say, ‘Look, I’ve got this type of case. Can we get some people who have heavy experience in that from somewhere around the country?’ You’ve got to make sure there’s not a continuing hazard.”

The precise cause of the explosion that killed Nick Revetta remains a mystery. Workers had been grinding and welding on the B Cold Box just prior to the blast, but none of the witnesses interviewed by Laughlin reported smelling gas. “No evacuation alarm ever went off,” a foreman told Laughlin, according to the inspector’s notes.

Another witness said he’d heard “a large gas escaping sound — definitely a pipe hissing — and [seen] a big ball of fire” near Quad 3, a trailer-sized structure, containing four cryogenic vessels, located close to the disabled B Cold Box. There had been an explosion in Quad 3 in 2005. No one was hurt, and U.S. Steel blamed the event on lightning.

Lawyer Gismondi says U.S. Steel’s own investigation, which has not been made public, concluded that “there was a gas leak inside [Quad 3] and oxygen got in.” This suggests that two of the three ingredients required for an explosion — flammable gas and oxygen — were present. All that was needed was an ignition source — something as simple as static electricity. U.S. Steel declined to comment.


John Straub, a senior operating technician with U.S. Steel, was at home the morning Nick Revetta died. He learned about the explosion from his wife, who’d seen a bulletin on TV. “I said, ‘I know exactly where it was.'” A casual acquaintance of the Revetta brothers, Straub had worked in the area of the blast and had been troubled by what he described as sloppy “hot work” procedures designed to contain sparks from welding and burning.

The job to which Nick Revetta had been assigned — the rebuilding of the B Cold Box — was, in Straub’s view, being done without proper enclosures to segregate potential sources of ignition. It was part of a disturbing trend he’d observed: Precautions that would have been taken five years earlier were deemed too expensive and time-consuming. “In the old days, responsibility for safety was shared by the contractor and U.S. Steel,” Straub says. “Now it’s just somebody else working. You don’t look at [a contract employee] like it’s your son or your daughter or your dad working, which you should.”

Straub filed a 10-page, handwritten complaint with OSHA’s Pittsburgh office in January 2010, alleging that U.S. Steel had violated the process safety management standard. Straub claimed that several “near-misses” in the No. 2 control room before Revetta’s death hadn’t been investigated. Six months later, OSHA cited U.S. Steel for five “serious” violations related to Straub’s complaint and proposed a $32,400 fine. The company settled and paid $19,800.

Not long after Straub filed his complaint, Maureen Revetta learned that OSHA’s investigation into her husband’s death had been closed, with no citations issued to U.S. Steel. She and Gismondi had two unsatisfying meetings with OSHA officials in the summer of 2010. In the first, “One guy said, ‘We don’t have enough resources,’ ” Maureen says. “I wouldn’t tell parents that I don’t have enough resources to teach their kids. I have to figure it out. That’s no excuse.” In the second meeting, which included then-deputy regional administrator Selker, Gismondi produced inspector Laughlin’s written request for help and asked why it hadn’t been honored. “They were flustered,” the lawyer says.

In October 2010, Gismondi approached OSHA chief David Michaels at a conference in Pittsburgh and hand-delivered a letter. “Mrs. Revetta and I have strong concerns that the OSHA investigation into this accident was not as thorough and complete as it should have been,” it said. A month later, Michaels replied that the process safety investigation sought by Laughlin “would not likely have determined the root or underlying causes of the incident that killed Mr. Revetta” and said that Straub’s complaint had resulted in citations that would discourage “unsafe practices at the Clairton Plant.”

In her own letter to Michaels, the United Steelworkers’ Bezy observed that it took an expert — Pittsburgh-based OSHA inspector Jan Oleszewski — to document the violations Straub had alleged. Oleszewski or someone like him should have been assigned to the Revetta investigation, Bezy argued.

“I fear that [U.S. Steel] will continue to injure and kill our employees and those who contract to work in our plant,” she wrote. “They seem to be above the law in matters of Health and Safety.”

Indeed, one week before Oleszewski cited U.S. Steel for violations stemming from the Straub complaint, the Clairton Plant blew up again. It was July 14, 2010 — not even a year after Nick Revetta was killed.

‘You thought someone was dying’

That morning, Denny Lentz, a steamfitter with Power Piping, was helping a co-worker install a flat piece of steel between flanges on a 30-inch coke oven gas line in the Clairton Plant’s B Battery. The “blank” was supposed to block the flow of gas while the men repaired a leaking valve. Something went wrong: Lentz, outfitted in a self-contained breathing apparatus, could hear and feel the gas escaping. “It was blowing the coal dust off the ceiling,” he says. “Once you got gas blowing everywhere, it’s gonna find a spark.”

Lentz says that a gas alarm went off several times, but a U.S. Steel supervisor silenced it each time. “I was thinking, ‘I gotta hurry,'” Lentz says. He was rushing to tighten the bolts on the flanges when a wall of flame “came right at me and blew me over.” He remembers picking himself up off the ground and hearing screams: “You thought someone was dying.” The fire peeled the skin off his hands; his ears and the back of his head were burned as well. Others, including the U.S. Steel supervisor, were burned more severely.

OSHA said the procedure approved by U.S. Steel — allowing coke oven gas to keep flowing through the line rather than shutting it off and purging it with nitrogen — invited disaster. The agency cited the company in January 2011 for 12 alleged violations and proposed a $143,500 fine. One violation was classified as “willful,” suggesting OSHA believes the steel maker either disregarded or was “plainly indifferent” to safety rules. U.S. Steel is appealing. Lentz and other workers hurt in the accident are suing the company.

The B Battery conflagration may have been foreshadowed 2 ½ years earlier in River Rouge, Mich. At U.S. Steel’s Great Lakes Works on Jan. 5, 2008, a pipe dislodged by a gas explosion fatally crushed Thomas Pichler Jr., a 27-year-old contract pipefitter. A lawsuit filed by Pichler’s parents alleged that U.S. Steel allowed flammable gas to enter the supposedly inactive pipe; the case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum in March 2011.

Although Michigan’s workplace safety agency did not cite U.S. Steel, the lawsuit uncovered evidence of company culpability. U.S. Steel allowed coke oven gas to enter a line that was supposed to have been out of service, says Robert Darling, the lawyer for Pichler’s parents. During the litigation, U.S. Steel officials betrayed no knowledge of what caused the explosion.

The breakthrough came when the president of Pichler’s employer testified in a deposition that only U.S. Steel had the key to remove a lock on a valve that kept gas from flowing into the pipe on which Pichler was working. Evidence showed that the lock had been removed prior to the explosion. U.S. Steel did not respond to requests for comment on the Pichler case.

Could a more complete OSHA probe and sanctions in the Revetta case have prevented the second blast in Clairton? Celeste Monforton, a former OSHA analyst who lectures at the George Washington University School of Public Health, says that Revetta’s death should have prompted a broader investigation that might have identified other hazards.

“OSHA should have used that as an opportunity to look at the entire operation rather than just limiting its inspection to the area where the fatality occurred,” Monforton says. “To me, it’s just inexplicable that they didn’t do it. People can say all they want about OSHA’s lack of resources, but they had the tools to go in.”

The OSHA Field Operations Manual gives local managers considerable latitude in death cases to determine the scope of investigation. May, the former New Hampshire area director, says, “If the place is a mess and it’s had a fatality, it’s not atypical that you jump in and say, ‘We need to do the whole place.’ “

Burros, crabs…and people

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, a willful safety violation that causes the death of a worker is a misdemeanor, punishable by no more than six months in prison. Contrast this with the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which carries a one-year sentence for killing or merely harassing one of the animals on public lands.

OSHA chief Michaels says that statutory changes, enabling OSHA to assess stiffer civil penalties and making it easier to criminally prosecute wrongdoers, are needed.

“There’s no question in my mind that higher penalties would encourage employers to eliminate hazards before workers are hurt,” he says. “I think all of us recognize that fear of prison focuses the mind.”

In 2010, Michaels told a Senate panel about Jeff Davis, a boilermaker at the Motiva Enterprises oil refinery in Delaware whose body “literally dissolved” in sulfuric acid after a storage-tank explosion in 2001. Motiva was fined $175,000 for the accident, which hurt eight others.

“Yet, in the same incident, thousands of dead fish and crabs were discovered, allowing an EPA Clean Water Act violation amounting to $10 million,” Michaels testified. “How can we tell Jeff Davis’ wife Mary, and their five children, that the penalty for killing fish and crabs is many times higher than the penalty for killing their husband and father?”

That same year, Rep. George Miller, then chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, introduced legislation that would have raised limits on OSHA penalties and made it easier to hold corporate officials criminally liable for flagrant violations. Opposition from Republican members of Congress and business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, killed the legislation. “It’s been a constant campaign” to demonize OSHA, says Miller, a California Democrat. “The attack on this type of regulation is across the board. It’s not nuanced.”


Patrick Revetta has lost 30 pounds since Nick was killed. “He’s not the same person I’ve known for 10 years,” says his wife, Kathy. “He holds everything in. He sits there in a daze.” Still a U.S. Steel employee, Patrick is out on medical leave for post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I got a lot of bitterness in my heart over this, and I don’t think it’s ever going to go away,” he says. “How is it that somebody gets killed, OSHA finds nothing and they send guys back in and go back to full production? I believe OSHA turned their head to it.”

His father, Adrian, died of complications from diabetes 13 months before Nick was killed. Adrian would not have allowed the cause of the 2009 explosion to remain undetermined, Patrick says. “If my dad were still alive, there would have been an answer.”

On a Saturday in January last year, he drove a visitor from Clairton to the snow-covered Finleyville Cemetery, where his brother, parents and grandfather are buried, and parked his truck next to the family plots. A small Pittsburgh Penguins flag fluttered next to Nick’s headstone; following the hockey team had been one of his passions.

On his way down the hill a few minutes later, Patrick gave his horn two taps. Goodbye, little brother.

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A journalist since 1978, Jim Morris has won more than 80 awards for his work, including the George Polk...