- In a move heralded as a win for workplace safety, President-elect Joe Biden added a prominent workplace health expert to his Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board.
- Dr. David Michaels is an epidemiologist and professor of environmental and occupational health at the George Washington University School of Public Health in Washington, D.C. He served as assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health from 2009 to January 2017, the longest serving administrator in OSHA’s history. Much of his research focuses on protecting the integrity of the science underpinning public health, safety and environmental protections, according to the announcement.
- The appointment comes after the nonprofit National Safety Council urged Biden to include a workplace safety expert on the task force, saying that having a workplace safety voice at the table alongside medical and health professionals is critical to combating the coronavirus crisis.
In calling on Biden's team to include a workplace safety professional, the NSC noted that the business community has not had a national pandemic roadmap, and said that "employers have struggled because of it." Analysis of states’ actions to combat COVID-19 shows that only nine states have released comprehensive employer guidelines during the pandemic to help protect employees, the council added.
So far, four states — Virginia, Michigan, California and Oregon — have enacted emergency workplace standards in response to the pandemic, including protocols for screening employees and visitors, physical distancing measures and the use of masks and face shields.
Construction industry health experts also expressed concern that Biden's original task force did not include an appointee specifically dedicated to the needs of COVID-19 safety in the workplace.
“It’s not part of our culture to think about work and health in this country. We don’t think about occupation as one of the social determinants of health,” said Jack Dennerlein, a professor at Northeastern University in Boston who studies occupational health and safety in construction, and who noted a lack of an occupational expert on Biden’s initial COVID-19 task force. “But if he really wants to get the economy running again, you’ve got to think about controlling it in the workplace so that workers can show up.”
The NSC praised the addition of Michaels to the team, saying that he brings a deep understanding of the safety challenges facing both workers and their employers.
"We have the utmost confidence in his expertise in the midst of an unparalleled safety crisis," read a statement.
Construction Dive Reporter Joe Bousquin contributed to this report.