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OSHA finally gets its boss (12/4)

December 4, 2009
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The long wait is over. Last night, the U.S. Senate confirmed David Michaels, Ph.D, MPH, as assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health.

The White House on Tuesday, July 28 announced President Obama’s intent to nominate Michaels, an epidemiologist and research professor at George Washington University in Washington, DC, to head OSHA.

Michaels’ confirmation comes with an asterisk. According to the U.S. Senate web portal, his confirmation was approved “subject to the nominee’s commitment to respond to requests to appear and testify before any duly constituted committee of the Senate.”

Since Michaels did not face a hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee prior to the committee approving his nomination and sending it to the full Senate on November 18, you can be sure at some point in 2010 Michaels will be trekking to Capitol Hill (at least once and probably many more times) to answer for OSHA’s new-found aggressive enforcement and revved up standards-setting, and any plans for another go at setting an ergonomics standard.

In fact, Michaels might want to don his flak jacket over the weekend. This coming Monday his boss, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, will unveil OSHA’s regulatory agenda.

Before the HELP committee’s approval, Michaels did provide senators with written answers to submitted questions.

Wrote Dr. Michaels: “There are many regulatory changes needed at OSHA. Three of the most important ones are:


  • Completing rulemaking on some of the proceedings that are currently underway, including silica, beryllium, cranes and derricks, and the globally harmonized system (GHS).


  • Promulgating a combustible dust standard.


  • Initiating rulemaking for an occupational safety and health program standard.”


Michaels has federal safety and health regulatory experience, serving as the Department of Energy’s Assistant Secretary for Environment, Health and Safety in the Clinton administration from 1998 through January, 2001. Michaels was the chief architect of DOE’s initiative to compensate workers in the nuclear weapons industry who developed cancer or lung disease as a result of exposure to radiation, beryllium and other hazards.

Acting OSHA chief Jordan Barab, who has been very vocal during his interim tenure signaling OSHA’s return to “cop on the beat” duty, aggressive enforcement and assertive standard-setting, will become Michaels’ top lieutenant at the agency.

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