OSHA Update - President Obama Nominates Research Professor to Head OSHA
On July 28, 2009 President Obama announced the nomination of Professor David Michaels to the position of Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA. Professor Michaels currently serves as a Research Professor and Interim Chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at The George Washington University School of Public Health. An epidemiologist by trade (with a PhD in Philosophy), Professor Michaels served under President Clinton as the Department of Energy's Assistant Secretary for Environment, Safety and Health. More recently, he authored the book Doubt is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health.
Professor Michaels does not appear to have any health and safety experience outside of government and academia. His views appear to be in line with the Obama Administration's pronouncements regarding increasing OSHA enforcement as well as pushing new standards. In a recent article published in the Newsletter of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, Professor Michaels stated that "OSHA badly needs a change in direction and philosophy" and that one of the goals of the Obama Administration should be to initiate "[a] bold campaign to change the workplace culture of safety . . . ." In order to accomplish this goal, Professor Michaels advocates the following: issuing a rule with respect to workplace injury and illness prevention programs; increasing training grants; developing electronic recordkeeping and reporting systems and; "initiating a campaign to change the way the nation thinks about workplace safety." On this last point, Professor Michaels states that "OSHA needs to develop a sophisticated public campaign, with OSHA officials using the mainstream media, to put out the message that workplace injury and illness remains an important problem . . . . "
The nomination of Professor Michaels is a boon for organized labor. The AFL-CIO's director for safety and health is on record as stating that "David Michaels is an excellent choice for this position. He really does bring a level of experience and leadership to the agency that is sorely needed. He also brings a deep commitment to worker protection." Business, on the other hand, is skeptical of the nomination. "It's my feeling that just because he believes science says one thing, that doesn't mean that it is unquestionable, that there isn't countervailing data to argue otherwise," said Marc Freedman, head of labor policy for the Chamber of Commerce. "This is going to be one of the great debates we're going to see going forward."
Professor Michaels must be confirmed by the Senate before taking the reigns as head of OSHA.
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