This week we spent the hour with Dr. David Michaels, epidemiologist, professor and former Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA under the Obama Administration. Much of Dr. Michaels’ work has focused on protecting the integrity of the science underpinning public health, safety and environmental protections. He is the author of Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health and The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception. It couldn’t be a more relevant moment to hear from Dr. Michaels, as public health guidance in our country is politicized and health experts and policymakers face backlash for advocating for sufficient protections.

Dr. Michaels covered a breadth of topics including discussing our broken regulatory system and the opportunity for states to take bold action to protect workers. He emphasized the need for OSHA to issue a temporary emergency standard, explaining that it is difficult for OSHA to issue citations without a standard – as evidenced by the shockingly small number of citations, countable on one hand, issued since the beginning of the pandemic. Dr. Michaels also referenced a study from Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, indicating that one press release naming a company that has violated workplace health and safety regulations yields the same results as if OSHA had conducted 210 individual inspections. He also referenced an AJPH publication co-written by Jordan Barab, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration at 50: Protecting Workers in a Changing Economy

Dr. Michaels’ discussion with participants also focused on the importance to give workers and union representatives a voice in setting workplace policies. One worker empowerment strategy discussed was a private right of action against employers (this framework is further explained in the Center for Progressive Reform’s recent report). Dr. Michaels argued that every workplace should be required to develop an infection control plan, but in order for such plans to effectively restrict viral spread, they must be developed in collaboration with workers – who must trust that they will not be penalized for using sick time or taking personal precautions and that they can speak out without fear of retaliation.  This webinar was attended by more than 111 people.