David Michaels PhD, MPH is an epidemiologist and professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health. His primary expertise is in worker safety and health, and he has held sub-Cabinet Senate-confirmed public health positions in the administrations of President Barack Obama (in which he was Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health) and President Bill Clinton (Assistant Secretary of Energy for Environment, Safety and Health). He has been on the faculty at GWU since 2001.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Michaels has focused on improving the protection of workers exposed to SARS-CoV-2. He has written and consulted extensively on the topic and is a member of the Biden-Harris Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board. He served on the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s expert panel that developed a Framework for Equitable Allocation of Vaccine for the Novel Coronavirus, and is a member of the Lancet COVID-19 Commission’s Task Force on Safe Work, Safe School, and Safe Travel.
Michaels is a leader in efforts to protect the integrity of the science underpinning public health and environmental protections, and is the author of The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception (Oxford University Press, 2020) and Doubt is Their Product (Oxford University Press, 2008). In addition to articles in Science, JAMA, Scientific American, the International Journal of Epidemiology, the American Journal of Public Health and numerous other journals. Dr. Michaels was guest editor of a special issue on Scientific Evidence and Public Policy in the American Journal of Public Health, and two issues of Law and Contemporary Problems: Sequestered Science: The Consequences of Undisclosed Knowledge and Conventions in Science and Law. In 2019, he was appointed by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to the Board of Scientific Counselors of the National Toxicology Program.
Michaels took a leave of absence from George Washington University to serve as Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) from 2009 through January 2017, and was the longest serving administrator in OSHA's history. Under his leadership, OSHA strengthened exposure standards for silica and beryllium, and issued new rules on safety, injury and illness record-keeping and reporting, and hazard communication. He launched OSHA’s Temporary Workers Initiative
; greatly increased the agency’s activities protecting healthcare workers
; expanded OSHA's activities to protect whistleblowers under Sarbanes-Oxley, Dodd-Frank, and 19 other financial, environmental, transportation, and public health laws; and issued OSHA's first compliance guide and recommended practices
for employers for preventing and addressing workplace retaliation.
From 1998 through January 2001, Michaels served as the Department of Energy's Assistant Secretary for Environment, Safety and Health. In this position, he had primary responsibility for protecting the health and safety of workers, the neighboring communities and the environment surrounding the nation's nuclear weapons facilities. Michaels was the chief architect of the historic initiative to compensate workers in the nuclear weapons complex who developed cancer or other diseases following exposure to radiation, beryllium and other hazards. Since its enactment in 2000, The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program has provided more than $18 billion in benefits to sick workers and their families. He also oversaw promulgation of two major public rules: Chronic Beryllium Disease Prevention and Nuclear Safety Management.
Throughout his career, Michaels has focused on the health of disadvantaged communities and the impact of infectious diseases on underserved populations. He founded and directed the Epidemiology Unit of the Montefiore-Rikers Island Health Service, the first such unit in a jail in the United States, conducting studies on tuberculosis, sexually-transmitted diseases, drug abuse, mental health, homelessness and HIV. In the early 1990s, Michaels developed a widely-cited mathematical model estimating the number of children and adolescents orphaned by HIV/AIDS.
Michaels received the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award for his work on behalf of nuclear weapons workers and for his advocacy for scientific integrity. He is also the recipient of the American Public Health Association's David P. Rall Award for Advocacy in Public Health, the John P. McGovern Science and Society Award given by Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society, and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists' William D. Wagner Award.
Michaels is a graduate of the City College of New York and holds an MPH (Master of Public Health) and PhD from Columbia University.