Speaking Up for Young Worker Safety in Michigan
Photo: Anthony Oliveri testifies before the Michigan House Committee on Education.
I’ve been interested in how industrial hygienists and other occupational health professionals can use their expertise and experiences to make an impact in governmental arenas since I first entered the field (admittedly, only a few years ago). So, when I had the opportunity to volunteer to testify before a Michigan State House committee in support of a bill concerning occupational health and safety training for high schoolers, I jumped at the chance.
The bill in question is Michigan House Bill 4282. This bill would allow high school students to meet a portion of their health and physical education graduation requirements by taking an OSHA 30-hour course. After its introduction, the bill had been referred to the Michigan House Committee on Education for a vote. AIHA had already drafted a letter of support for HB 4282, so I would be going to the committee meeting to explain a bit about myself and my interest in the bill and communicate AIHA’s support in person.
And, aside from my support as a member of AIHA, I did have an independent interest in what this bill was trying to do. When I was in graduate school studying industrial hygiene, I had helped start an initiative within our AIHA student group to get the NIOSH/AIHA Safety Matters programinto local high schools. Once I graduated and began my current position, I was part of a team that runs an occupational health surveillance program for the state of Michigan. Our group had just recently published a report on occupational injuries in teenagers aged 14–17 in Michigan (PDF), in which we discuss the 1,501 occupational injuries, including 5 deaths, we were able to identify from 2014 through 2017. I personally understood the need for, and fully supported, this kind of legislation, which would both enable and encourage our working youth to receive the comprehensive safety training that an OSHA 30-hour course can deliver.
So needless to say, I agreed to testify before the House Committee. From there, it was a matter of getting me on the schedule to speak at the committee meeting in the first place. I was told that if I signed up to speak at the meeting, the committee would do its best to fit me in. My plan was to be at the meeting in any event, with the AIHA letter and my amendments in hand, ready to speak if the opportunity arose.
Bright and early the next morning I arrived at the office building and, after asking for directions only one or two times, was able to find the committee meeting room and sign up to testify. Once the meeting began, it was a rapid-fire event, with the committee moving through a number of bills before arriving at HB 4282. They then called me up to give my testimony. Sitting at the table, only a couple of feet away from a dozen or so Representatives, with a microphone in my face, it was hard not to feel like I was being aggressively interviewed or cross-examined. But after diving in to my prepared remarks, I could tell the committee members, far from being hostile, were listening closely and were receptive. I fielded a few questions regarding what OSHA 30-hour training entails, as well as our findings on teenage worker injuries, that showed the Representatives were genuinely interested in the potential impact of the bill.
I like to think my support and AIHA’s had the desired effect, because right after my testimony the committee overwhelmingly voted to support the bill and referred it on to the House Committee of Ways and Means for further review. While HB 4282 still has a ways to go before becoming law, it was satisfying to know that I was able to get AIHA’s support on the record, which will follow the bill through any future considerations and votes. And beyond that, I was able to experience firsthand how industrial hygienists can make their voices heard among politicians and work directly toward laws and regulations that make workplaces and workers safer and healthier—an eye-opening and gratifying opportunity that I would encourage my peers to seek out for themselves!