Professor Michaels is an epidemiologist with extensive experience in research, regulatory and public policy, and program administration. From 2009 to January 2017, Dr. Michaels served as the United States Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. Appointed by President Barack Obama and unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate, Dr. Michaels was the longest serving Assistant Secretary in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s history.
As Assistant Secretary, Dr. Michaels worked to strengthen the agency's enforcement in high risk industries, improve OSHA's whistleblower protection program, promote common sense worker protection programs and standards, expand compliance assistance provided to small employers, and increase outreach to the vulnerable populations who are at greatest risk for work-related injury and illness. He also increased OSHA's focus and capabilities in the areas of data analysis and program evaluation.
Under his leadership, OSHA issued new health standards protecting workers exposed to silica and beryllium, and new safety regulations on fall protection, confined spaces, cranes and derricks, shipyards and electricity generation and distribution. Dr. Michaels updated OSHA’s injury and illness surveillance and tracking requirements, making workplace amputations and hospitalizations sentimental health events that now must be reported to OSHA.
Since leaving OSHA and returning to academia, much of Dr. Michaels work has been focused on the relationship of operational excellence and workplace safety and health. He has also assisted the safety and health authorities in several countries increase their effectiveness in preventing workplace injuries and illnesses.
In addition to his leadership of OSHA, Dr. Michaels served as the Department of Energy's Assistant Secretary for Environment, Safety and Health, serving from 1998 through January 2001. 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. Dr. Michaels was the chief architect of the historic initiative to compensate workers in the nuclear weapons complex who developed cancer or lung disease as a result of exposure to radiation, beryllium and other hazards. Since its enactment in 2000, The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program has provided more than $16 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.
Dr. Michaels has conducted epidemiologic studies on typographers, commercial pressmen, construction workers, bus drivers and paper workers, and served as research director of the National Sheet Metal Worker Asbestos Disease Data Base, involving more than 10,000 asbestos-exposed workers in the U.S. and Canada.
In addition to his epidemiologic research, much of Dr. Michaels' work has focused on protecting the integrity of the science underpinning public health and environmental protections. He is the author of Doubt is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health (Oxford University Press, 2008), as well as the upcoming The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception (Oxford University Press 2020), 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.
Dr. Michaels has also focused his research and policy work on the health of the disadvantaged. 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 disease, drug abuse, mental health, homelessness and HIV. In the early 1990s, Dr. Michaels developed a widely-cited mathematical model estimating the number of children and adolescents orphaned by HIV/AIDS.
Dr. 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.
Dr. Michaels is a graduate of the City College of New York, and holds an MPH (Master of Public Health) and PhD from Columbia University.