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David Michaels: Will he stay or will he go?

November 12, 2012

President Barack Obama is sticking around for another four years. But will OSHA administrator David Michaels do the same?

“If I were a betting man, I would say Michaels would leave,” said former OSHA attorney Brad Hammock. Hammock, who currently is a lawyer with Jackson Lewis LLP, bases his bet on history.

A look at a timeline of OSHA administrators confirms Hammock’s bet would be a good one – none has served longer than Eula Bingham’s stint of three years, nine months under President Jimmy Carter. To date, Michaels has served nearly three full years.

“If he stays, that would be unprecedented,” said Frank White, global director for Mercer ORC HSE Services in Washington.

When I reached out to the Department of Labor as to whether Michaels intended to stay or planned to step down, a DOL spokesperson declined to comment. However, some stakeholders expect – and even want – Michaels to remain at OSHA.

Noting the year-long delay that often occurs between appointed OSHA chiefs, White said Michaels staying on would help OSHA continue its initiatives without interruption, ensuring continuity.

“There’s been signals he’d be interested in staying on the job, and that may well happen,” he said.

One such signal could be seen as Michaels’ vocal support for an Injury and Illness Prevention Program Standard. In speeches and statements, Michaels has pushed for the standard despite strong opposition from congressional Republicans. Another signal could be his desire to do something about permissible exposure limits, many of which are decades out of date but require lengthy procedural steps before they can be modernized.

But other factors could determine whether Michaels stays or goes – not the least of which includes whether the Obama administration wants him to stay.

If Michaels is replaced, employers should not expect a sharp turn away from how OSHA currently is operating. Hammock speculated while any new agency chief may have slightly different opinions as to how to best allocate resources, the candidate would likely have the same general mindset and goals as Michaels.

The opinions expressed in "Washington Wire" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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