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

Michaels’ nomination was not unexpected. Sources tell ISHN Michaels had been “stuck in the vetting process” for some time.

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.

Michaels is also on record indicating what he might do as OSHA chief. Writing in the Winter, 2009 “Safety Rep” newsletter of the New York Committee of Occupational Safety and Health, he said the agency “badly needs a change in direction and philosophy.” Michaels listed four specific objectives warranting OSHA’s focus: 1) issuing a workplace injury and illness program; 2) increasing training grants; 3) developing a new electronic recordkeeping and reporting system; and 4) launching a campaign to “change the way the nation thinks about workplace safety.”

Michaels is current Interim Chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at George Washington. University. His career work has focused on the use of science in public policy, and he is said to be a strong advocate of utilizing risk assessment tools in making occupational health and safety policy decisions.

As with any OSHA administrator, Michaels comes to the job with supporters and opponents, or at least skeptics. There is no such thing as a consensus OSHA pick.

He is favored by organized labor and those who believe OSHA is in need of a fresh, outsider’s perspective, as well as a leader grounded in science. 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 is also not an ivory tower academic with no real world savvy; at DOE he ran a department with many more staffers than are at OSHA.

But Michaels is sure to scare members of the business community, especially chemical manufacturers. In 2008, Michaels wrote the book, Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health. To some in industry, Michaels is seen as anti-business, someone who argues business’s “assault on science” implicates industrial scientists as corrupt and not trustworthy to get the science right, because they have greater commercial interests.

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, praised President Obama’s announcement.

“President Obama is to be commended for his intent to nominate Dr. David Michaels to lead the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration,” said Miller. “Dr. Michaels' expertise and leadership is needed as OSHA continues to restore vital health and safety protections for America’s workers. I look forward to working with Dr. Michaels and Secretary Solis to ensure the agency has the tools it needs to accomplish this mission.”

“Given the impressive credentials Dr. Michaels will bring as the OSHA administrator, I am confident that the initiatives launched by Secretary Solis to issue long overdue safety standards and bring back more vigorous enforcement of workplace safety and health standards will be realized,” said Woolsey.

From the blog, OSHA Aboveground: “Congratulations Dr. Michaels, and welcome to a world where public health, science, politics, law and bureaucracy all collide into the big mangled pile of frustrations, forgotten dreams, lost ideas, fading idealism, and reality that is OSHA.”

From the blog, The Pump Handle: “Congratulations, David! All of us at George Washington University and The Pump Handle will miss working with you, but our loss is the country’s gain. U.S. workers can look forward to an OSHA dedicated to realizing the vision of safe and healthy workplaces for all.”

Michaels most likely will not receive his Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee confirmation hearing until after the Senate’s August recess. That hearing should be good theatre, one divisive, saber-rattling spectacle. With what blogger Merrill Goozner (www.gooznews.com) calls Michaels’ “leadership role in the fight against the corporate misuse and abuse of science,” Republicans and business lobbyists are certain to grill the nominee, bash his anti-business bias, and put up a staunch fight.

But Michaels should be confirmed by the committee and the full Senate due to the Democratic majority.