Dr. David MichaelsAfter giving a one-hour informal talk to hundreds of safety pros at ASSE’s annual meeting in Denver Monday afternoon, Dr. David Michaels, the OSHA chief, held an equally informal sit-down interview session with about a half-dozen reporters.

ISHN asked Dr. Michaels if he’d be up for a second term leading OSHA if President Obama is re-elected in November. He would be setting a precedent in doing so; no OSHA boss has ever stuck around for a second term.

“I’ll evaluate that if I have the opportunity to,” he said, smiling. “I’m fortunate to have a job to go back to at George Washington University. They were very generous in the leave of absence they gave me.”

Our follow-up question: If you do go back to the private sector, will a major disappointment for you be failing to get out the injury and illness prevention program, your top priority?

“Look, I’m a realist,” said Dr. Michaels. “If the GAO says it takes on average 8 years for OSHA to promulgate a standard, then no one gets a standard out in the first 4 years. I do think we’ve moved this ball forward.”

Dr. Michaels sent conflicting messages to the ASSE audience regarding the ultimate fate of the I2P2 standard. First, he said, “Eventually it will be a standard. It’s been well-accepted by employers as a way to reduce risk.” Later, he said, “If the (I2P2) standard ever does go into effect, it’s not about abating hazards, it’s about having a process in place for finding and fixing hazards.”

It seems highly unlikely I2P2 will see the light of day as a proposal before the election. The same goes for a possible silica exposure standard.

Dr. Michaels told the audience to be ready for a surprise: OSHA will go forward with a rulemaking effort before the election. But he smiled and said he couldn’t divulge what it would be. “Thank you for sharing that with us,“ joked the moderator, and Dr. Michaels and the audience laughed it off.

Among the OSHA chief’s remarks:

“For all the talk about there being a new sheriff in town, the new sheriff has conducted only about 1,000 more inspections than were conducted during the last years of the Bush administration.”

“We find many incentive programs used for safety in industry to be very problematic. Programs that reward all employees for not having an injury reward the non-reporting of injuries in order to win the prize. These programs are flawed.”

“We are getting 200 million visits to OSHA’s website every year.”

“The most painful part of my job is standards-setting. It is a very slow process and it’s very tough to streamline it without writing new OSH legislation. It is very discouraging. We actually think the GAO’s estimate of 8 years to produce a standard is off, that it takes longer. As a result, voluntary standards such as the Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) and ANSI and NFPA standards are now being used more and more in industry.”