COVID-19: Managing employee health and safety under new OSHA requirements

In the past week, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has published an interim enforcement response plan, new enforcement guidance, and other general guidelines related to COVID-19 in the workplace. These new publications and memos assert the heightened attention OSHA is giving to the risks posed by the COVID-19 virus in the workplace.

As with other work-related health and safety hazards that OSHA monitors, employers are required to apply the same engineering, administrative, and work practice controls - and where needed, provide personal protective equipment - to keep employees safe and healthy against COVID-19. Employers are expected to limit exposure to COVID-19 as much as possible by identifying, reporting, and isolating sick individuals and developing practices to ensure a healthy work environment for all employees.

Employers in the healthcare industry and other “essential businesses” are facing unprecedented new demands and risks due to COVID-19. Even as the pandemic wanes in some areas, the OSHA response plan and requirements place a sharper focus on the requirements for employers with sick, recovering, furloughed, or temporarily remote workers to take the proper actions to keep all their employees safe and healthy as they return to work.  

Through all this, chatbots have emerged as a powerful digital tool to support employers’ ability to effectively screen and monitor staff over time. Chatbot “virtual assistants” can answer common questions, perform basic screening, and recommend appropriate resources and services through intuitive easy to use interfaces. Because they are accessible over commonly used devices, they can be used by people with varying degrees of digital literacy and from the comfort and safety of home. They also help to offload the significant burden being placed on stressed call centers operations.

Innovative employers are using chatbots to engage their staff and ensure the wellness of all employees before, during, and after their return to work through the COVID-19 pandemic. With the integration of periodic reminders, employee wellness and transmission risks can tracked over time, supporting existing and new monitoring and reporting requirements like those from OSHA.