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Former OSHA Head to Consult for Actors’ Equity on COVID Safety

The union, which will have a say in when and how actors and stage managers return to work, has retained David Michaels to help develop workplace safety standards.

NEW YORK CITY: Actors’ Equity Association has announced that David Michaels, a public health expert and former head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), will consult for the union on new health and safety standards for COVID-19. The announcement comes as some states are exploring (or, in the case of Georgia, implementing) plans to reopen some non-essential businesses, and the uncertainty around what that could mean for theatres.

“David’s expertise will be invaluable during this unprecedented time,” said executive director Mary McColl in a statement. “Ultimately, while the employers are solely responsible for ensuring the health and safety of all actors and stage managers, Equity is committed to being an industry leader to help develop model health and safety standards that will eventually allow us to reopen and maintain a safe and healthy workplace.”

This announcement comes just over a week after McColl and the union released a statement in response to reports that some theatres were looking to begin production as soon as May 6. In her statement, McColl said that it is “unclear under the current circumstances” how a theatre would be able to have a comprehensive plan in place to ensure a safe workspace. Equity, in their statement, encouraged any member who received an offer to work to contact their regional Equity office.

Then earlier this week, Equity Council unanimously passed a new internal membership rule stating that members may only return to work when the union says it is safe to do so. Michaels has been brought in as an integral part of implementing a plan to put member safety first while making decisions based in epidemiological science.

Michaels served as the assistant secretary of labor for OSHA during the Obama administration (2009-2017) and is currently a professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the Milken Institute School of Public Health of the George Washington University. Michaels is OSHA’s longest-serving assistant secretary.

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