Obama Announces Intention to Nominate Dr. David Michaels to Oversee OSHA

President Barack Obama recently announced his intention to nominate David Michaels, PhD, MPH, as assistant secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).  A permanent administrator hasn’t been in place since the resignation of Edwin Foulke Jr. in November 2008.   View the OSHA org. chart.

Michaels is an epidemiologist and research professor at the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.  According to a White House statement, “He has conducted numerous studies of the health effects of occupational exposure to toxic chemicals, including asbestos, metals and solvents, and has written extensively on science and regulatory policy.”

He served as the Assistant Secretary of Energy for Environment, Safety and Health from 1998-2001, and in this role was primarily responsible for protecting the workers, communities and environment surrounding the nation’s nuclear weapons facilities.  He also was the chief architect of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000, an initiative to compensate workers in nuclear weapons facilities, which has provided more than $4.5 billion in benefits to sick workers and their families.  He also oversaw promulgation of two major public rules: Chronic Beryllium Disease Prevention (10 CFR 850) and Nuclear Safety Management (10 CFR 830). Michaels has received several prestigious awards for his work.

If confirmed by the Senate, he would replace the current acting assistant secretary for OSHA, Jordan Barab.

What this could mean for OSHA
Michaels’ credentials appear to make him an ideal candidate for this role. Once in the driver’s seat we can likely expect him to address what he considers to be OSHA’s shortfalls, which were voiced during a Congressional testimony delivered two years ago before the Subcommittee on Employment & Workplace Safety of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, titled “Is OSHA Working for Working People?”

Here are some insightful excerpts from the testimony:

  • “In short, there are many hazards common in the American workplace for which OSHA either has no standard or one that is based on old and out-dated science. Further, the results of new scientific studies appear to have little impact on the OSHA regulatory process.”
  • “The number and cost of preventable work related injuries and illnesses occurring in the United States are unacceptably high. Furthermore, the true incidence of these conditions is far higher than reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics since these data do not include approximately two-thirds of occupational injuries and illnesses.”
  • Procedural Botox: Congress and the White House have constructed a system where it is extremely difficult and expensive to issue new standards
  • “OSHA standard setting inordinately difficult and resource-intensive. There are numerous barriers to standard setting, including congressionally imposed special reviews by “small” business employers, OMB imposed regulatory reviews, and increasing demands for detailed economic analyses.”
  • “OSHA enforcement does not appear to be effective in further reducing injury rates. While BLS reports a decrease in injury rates, sophisticated statistical analyses indicate that most of this decrease can be attributable to changes in OSHA recordkeeping rules.”
  • “OSHA needs to move away from hazard-specific standard setting.”
  • “Chemical by chemical standard setting would be a painfully time- and resource-intensive process for any agency, much less this beleaguered one. OSHA doesn’t have the staff to work on more than one or two standards at a time, and, with no judicial or congressional oversight to speed the process, each standard takes years to complete.”
  • “OSHA’s first priority should be to issue a Comprehensive Workplace Safety and Health Program Standard”

From this testimony, we can gather that his focus, should he take over as the head of OSHA, would be on modifying the standard-setting process and injury and illness recordkeeping rules.  So, it seems the changes could keep coming for the administration, be sure to check back with us for the latest updates on Michaels’ nomination.