President Barack Obama has announced he intends to nominate Professor David Michaels to be the Assistant Secretary of OSHA. Professor Michaels is the interim chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the George Washington University School of Public Health in Washington, D.C. If confirmed, Professor Michaels will join Acting Assistant Secretary of OSHA Jordan Barab in the political leadership of the safety and health agency.

In addition to his current position with George Washington University, Professor Michaels has a long history in public health. During the Clinton Administration, Professor Michaels was Assistant Secretary for Environment Safety and Health at the Department of Energy, where he played a role in overseeing safety and health issues for employees at nuclear weapons facilities.

While it is too early to predict Professor Michaels’s likely priorities, in past writings, he has indicated the need for OSHA:  (1) to issue a workplace injury and illness prevention program rule; and (2) to develop an electronic recordkeeping and reporting system. Both would further past and present OSHA initiatives.  

During the Clinton Administration, OSHA developed, but never issued, a Safety and Health Program rule which would have required employers to implement a broader process for preventing injuries and illnesses in the workplace. Should Professor Michaels be confirmed, he may press his interest in an injury and illness prevention program rule, likely reigniting discussions regarding the need for employers to implement safety and health programs at their worksites. 

A potential electronic recordkeeping system also fits neatly into OSHA’s current enforcement efforts. OSHA will be releasing a Recordkeeping National Emphasis Program (NEP) in the next few weeks, which will focus enforcement resources on recordkeeping inspections in certain establishments. OSHA will perform thorough records reviews and investigate the extent to which employers may be discouraging workers from reporting injuries and illnesses. The Department is intent on rooting out underreporting.  An electronic recordkeeping system could make it easier for the agency to monitor worksite injuries and illnesses and possible underreporting.

No information has been released as to when Professor Michaels’s confirmation hearings may be held. This announcement, however, may calm the uncertainty that had been swirling around OSHA as to who would be the permanent political head of the agency.

We will, of course, continue to keep you apprised of developments with respect to the nomination.