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

Stage is Set for Change

The president's nominee to lead MSHA spent years advocating for stronger health protection for miners and more enforcement. The OSHA choice, Dr. David Michaels (shown here), studied the illnesses suffered by nuclear weapons industry workers and is credited with starting the program to compensate them.

Keep an eye on the Obama White House's online page tracking the progress of presidential nominations. The president's choices to lead OSHA and MSHA are now known, and how quickly they'll get to work depends on a confirmation process that has moved glacially this year.

The president on June 28 announced he will nominate epidemiologist David Michaels, Ph.D., MPH, 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., as assistant Labor secretary heading the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Michaels served as the U.S. Department of Energy's assistant secretary for Environment, Safety and Health from 1998 through January 2001 during the Clinton administration, then joined the GWU school, where he directs The Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy. Michaels is the author of the 2008 book "Doubt is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health" and was "the chief architect" of the Labor Department-managed Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program, which has paid out more than $5 billion in benefits to sick workers and their relatives to compensate them for illnesses caused by exposure to radiation, beryllium, and other hazards during the production of atomic weapons.

The man chosen to lead MSHA on July 6 is Joseph A. Main, a mine safety consultant who lives in Spotsylvania, Va. Main worked for the United Mine Workers of America for 32 years, starting in 1974 as a special assistant to the International President, joining the union's Safety Division in 1976, and serving as a safety inspector, administrative assistant, and deputy director before serving as administrator of the UMWA Occupational Health and Safety Department from 1982 to 2004.

James R. Carroll of the Louisville Courier-Journal reported Main has been a frequent witness at congressional hearings on mine safety and during the Clinton administration advocated that underground coal miners wear personal air monitors that would warn them of high dust levels.

UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts issued a statement July 6 praising the choice of Main. "The UMWA is extremely pleased that President Obama has announced his intention to nominate Joe Main to be Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health. Joe is perhaps the most knowledgeable person about mine safety and health in the nation, and his experience was gained where it counts the most -– fighting every day for over 30 years on behalf of miners' health and safety, including 22 years as the Administrator of Occupational Health and Safety for the UMWA," it said. "Joe has his work cut out for him. The Mine Safety and Health Administration has not lived up to its mandate from Congress to vigorously enforce mine health and safety laws and regulations the last eight years. The previous administration put mine production and company profitability ahead of miner safety. Fortunately, President Obama has sent a clear and consistent message that health and safety comes first in his administration."

As for Michaels, U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, and Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., who chairs its Workforce Protections Subcommittee, praised the choice. "President Obama is to be commended for his intent to nominate Dr. David Michaels to lead the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration," Miller said in a statement posted on the committee's site. "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," Woolsey said.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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