David Michaels

With David Michaels at the helm of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), greatly needed change is anticipated. Michaels – a research epidemiologist and interim Chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health (EOH) at the George Washington University School of Public Health and, during the Clinton administration, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Assistant Secretary for Environment, Safety and Health – was confirmed by the Senate and sworn in as OSHA head in December. He succeeds Jordan Barab, who joined OSHA as Deputy Assistant Secretary and Acting Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health in April. Barab remains at OSHA as Deputy Assistant Secretary.

Michaels has a long history of publicizing and working to resolve occupational and environmental safety and health hazards, particularly those related to the chemical industry. He has written extensively on health issues stemming from exposure to asbestos, metals and solvents. His book, Doubt Is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health (Oxford University Press, 2008), delves into the practice of industry executives employing  their own scientists and lobbyists to dispute the findings of studies on the hazards of toxic materials, second-hand smoke and global warming. When manufacturers foot the bill for their own “watchdogs,” the science can be twisted to cast doubt on its validity. These “product defense consultants,” Michaels writes, have succeeded in weakening OSHA’s regulatory powers, endangering the environment, the workplace and public health in general.

Michaels’s appointment to OSHA is a signal that this practice will not be accepted and, instead, questioned, and that OSHA is back in the business of aggressively preventing work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths while fining employers that violate OSHA standards.

“David Michaels sees occupational safety and health as a public health issue. He speaks out on the delay tactics of industry and favors regulatory action when needed,” says LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan. “LIUNA welcomes David Michaels to OSHA.”

[Janet Lubman Rathner]