PITTSBURGH, PA — Despite technological advances and increased automation, steelmaking remains a risky business, say steel workers troubled by the deaths of three employees of a Cambria County steel mill.

"It makes you sick," said Dick Bodt, who works at Johnstown Corp., Johnstown, where Wednesday's accident occurred. "You gotta make a living, but things happen."

Three men were burned to death and five others were injured when a new piece of equipment malfunctioned and spilled nearly 4,000 pounds of molten metal into an open pit.

The mold contained molten steel and was in a pit. The cover collapsed when the steel escaped. The men fell in.

Steel workers at Johnstown Corp. and two others near Pittsburgh said they were aware of the risks they take in return for their jobs, which sometimes pay $15 to $20 an hour.

... Steelmaking rates near the top of the list of risky work although the number of mill fatalities has decreased, according to the National Safety Council.

At least four mill deaths were reported in 1988 and five workers were killed in separate accidents at a Sharon Steel Corp. mill in 1986.

Johnstown Corp. did not have a history of safety problems. Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors cited the company in June 1988 for minor dust and noise violations.

OSHA officials are investigating the deaths.

Authorities said the victims had been standing on the cover of a 7-foot-wide spinning centrifugal mold when the equipment malfunctioned.

The mold contained molten steel and was in a pit. Johnstown Corp. officials said the cover collapsed when the steel escaped and the men fell into the pit.

Cambria County Coroner John Barron said pressure inside the caster blew the cover off the mold.