Quaking in Our Boots

If you live in southern California, you know what happened on the 4th of July. Mother Nature set off a fireworks display that had people scrambling for safety.

Yes, it was an earthquake, with a nasty aftershock larger than the original quake, which left a crack in the earth that could be seen from space!

A disaster preparedness plan goes beyond an SPCC (Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure) — which is an important plan to have in place for any business. However, if you and your team aren’t disaster-ready, this season is a good time to prepare.

According to OSHA, the primary dangers to workers result from:

  • Being struck by structural components or furnishings
  • Inadequately secured materials
  • Burns resulting from building fires caused by gas leaks or electrical shorts
  • Exposure to chemicals released from stored chemicals.

Many of the hazards to workers both during and following an earthquake are predictable, and may be reduced through hazard identification, planning and training.

Planning for Disaster 

While it might seem odd to plan for something you don’t want to happen, planning for an earthquake is similar to purchasing business, home, or auto insurance. You hope you never need any of them, but if something happens to your workplace, house or car, it’s good to know you’re covered.

OSHA recommends businesses take the following steps: 

  • Outline steps for workers to follow in the event of an earthquake. Include the following precautions:

    • Wait in your safe place until the shaking stops.
    • Move carefully and watch out for things that have fallen or broken. Be ready for aftershocks.
    • Watch for fires. Fire is the most common earthquake-related hazard, due to broken gas lines, damaged electrical lines or appliances, and previously contained fires or sparks being released.
    • If you must leave a building after the shaking stops, use the stairs, and look for falling debris. Earthquakes can cause fire alarms and fire sprinklers to go off.
    • If you’re outside in an earthquake, move away from buildings, trees, streetlights and overhead lines. Crouch down and cover your head.
  • Discuss earthquakes. Everyone in your workplace should know what to do if an earthquake occurs.
  • Get training. Take a first-aid class from an organization such as the American Red Cross, American Heart Association, or National Safety Council chapter. Learn how to use a fire extinguisher.
  • Protect your property. Businesses can use the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) How to Series for protecting people and property during emergencies. Perform a workplace survey, especially if you’re in an area with a high risk of earthquakes, to identify potential workplace hazards in the event of an earthquake.

Help for Hazmat Areas 

If you work in an industrial or automotive setting, or any business that involves hazardous materials, be sure to prepare for earthquakes and other emergencies well in advance:

  • Ensure that safety equipment (i.e., fire extinguishers, safety showers, eye washes) is accessible and in proper operating condition and that everyone in the building knows how to operate them.
  • Stock spill containment supplies and inform staff about where they’re kept, and how to use them.
  • Maintain an emergency evacuation kit with first aid, flashlight, radios, fresh batteries, food, water, and clothing in an accessible, easy-to-carry bag.
  • Secure chemical storage cabinets to prevent tipping or movement.
  • Back up computer files, and store hard copies in several locations besides the Cloud.
  • Post an evacuation checklist in large print.
  • Keep your identification with you.

It may be 20 or 30 years — or never — before your business experiences another earthquake. But when Mother Nature’s in charge, it’s best to do what we’re all taught as children: obey Mother, and get ready before she calls.


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