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Obama taps epidemiologist to lead OSHA

President Obama wants David Michaels, Ph.D., MPH to serve as the next head of OSHA, according to the Associated Press.

Michaels is currently the research professor and interim chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health [1] at The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.

Last June Michaels offered the Jeffrey S. Lee Lecture at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Expo in Toronto. In that address, the OSHA Underground blog [2] reports, Michaels criticized the business strategy of “manufacturing uncertainty,” where polluters and the manufacturers of dangerous products successfully oppose public health and environmental regulations.

The blog, The Pump Handle: A water cooler for the public health crowd [3], congratulated Michaels on being chosen, saying “U.S. workers can look forward to an OSHA dedicated to realizing the vision of safe and healthy workplaces for all.”

On the government side, the Michaels selection gained praise from U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, and Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), the chair of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee. [4]

Not everyone is of the same opinion. “Michaels supports the use of junk science as a basis for public policy and court decisions, representing a threat to employers, employees, consumers and taxpayers,” said Steve Milloy, publisher of JunkScience.com. [5]

Even so, an OSHA directed by Michaels may not be the enforcement-fest that some experts predicted with the Obama administration and its appointment of Jordan Barab as interim assistant secretary to date. In his “Bold campaign needed to change workplace culture” [6] essay [7] for the winter 2009 issue of The New York Committee for
Occupational Safety and Health newsletter, which was devoted to OSHA reform, Michaels wrote:

“…the objective of the Obama Administration should not be better/smarter enforcement. A bold campaign to change the workplace culture of safety should be initiated. This can’t happen unless workers are trained and given the opportunity to play an active role.

The President’s selection of Michaels requires confirmation by the Senate. That could be a good show.