Assistant Secretary David Michaels, Ph.D., MPH, who is the leader of OSHA, is shown in a GWU photo

Injury/Illness Prevention Rule May Be Michaels' Top Priority

Real-time injury reporting, greatly increased OSHA training grants, and a "sophisticated public campaign" by OSHA officials in mainstream media to change how Americans think about workplace safety are goals he listed last winter.

Predicting what Dr. David Michaels would do if confirmed as OSHA assistant secretary may not be difficult. He wrote what he thought the agency should do in a newsletter published last winter by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health. That issue of the SafetyRep newsletter was titled "Can OSHA Be Fixed?" and featured comments on consecutive pages by Michaels and Jordan Barab, who is now OSHA's acting assistant secretary.

The two papers are quite similar; Barab said he hoped enforcement would increase, the process of enacting standards would be fixed, PELs would be updated, accurate recordkeeping would be addressed, and OSHA would examine health effects of numerous high-use chemicals. Michaels, whom President Obama announced this week as his pick to lead OSHA, wrote that OSHA "badly needs a change in direction and philosophy." He then listed these four new objectives for OSHA:

1. Issue a workplace injury and illness prevention program rule. Every employer would have to develop and follow its own hazard identification and abatement plan using recommendations published by OSHA, NIOSH, trade associations, and others. Safety and health committees would be mandatory for large employers.

2. Increase workplace health and safety capacity by significantly increasing OSHA training grants, funding them from its current compliance assistance budget.

3. Develop an electronic recordkeeping system through which employers would report injuries in real time. Michaels said reports also could be filed by workers, unions, physicians, and workers' comp carriers.

4. Start a campaign to change how the nation thinks about workplace safety. "OSHA needs to develop a sophisticated public campaign, with OSHA officials using the mainstream media, to put out the message that workplace injury and illness remains an important problem in which hard working people are disabled, families are hurt, and the economic and social costs are enormous," he wrote.

Michaels, Ph.D., MPH, is research professor and interim chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services in Washington, D.C. He directs The Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) and is the author of the 2008 book "Doubt is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health." 

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