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More Americans died in workplace in '09 than during entire Iraq war

On Sept. 3, 2009, contract laborer Nick Revetta was killed in an explosion at U.S. Steel's Clairton Plant near Pittsburgh. Revetta's death and the events that followed reveal the limitations of a federal law meant to protect American workers.

When Nicholas Adrian Revetta of suburban Pittsburgh died in an explosion at a U.S. Steel plant on Sept. 3, 2009, his death did not make national headlines. No hearings were held into the accident that killed him. No one was fired or sent to jail.           

The 32-year-old contract laborer, who left behind a wife and two young children, was one of the 4,551 people killed on the job in America in 2009 -- a number that eclipsed the total number of U.S. fatalities in the nine-year Iraq war. Combined with the estimated 50,000 people who die annually of work-related diseases, it's as if a fully loaded Boeing 737-700 crashed every day.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 entitles American workers to "safe and healthful" conditions in their workplaces. But an examination of Revetta's death by the Center for Public Integrity illustrates how safety can yield to speed, how even fatal accidents can have few consequences for employers -- who are typically fined just $7,900 per fatality -- and how federal investigations can be cut short by what some call a de facto quota system.  


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