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Workers' Compensation

Earthquake Safety Guidance for Businesses

Greg Andress
by Greg Andress on November 16, 2020

Natural disasters can happen at any moment, and unlike hurricanes or tornadoes, which are seasonal, the timing of earthquakes is less predictable. The uncertainty of when an earthquake might occur makes it all the more important to be prepared. Read on to learn how to stay safe in the event of an earthquake while at work.

Where Do Earthquakes Occur?

First and foremost, it's important to understand who is most at risk of facing an earthquake. In the U.S., earthquakes are most likely to occur along the West Coast, primarily in California and Alaska. The West Coast of the U.S. is known as the "Ring of Fire," where 81 percent of our planet's largest earthquakes occur. Businesses with operations in this region should be especially mindful and prepared for earthquakes.

When it comes to staying safe while enduring an earthquake, preparation is key. Take a look at the following recommendations to make sure your workplace is better prepared to handle and recover quickly from an earthquake.

Create an Emergency Action Plan

Every organization should prepare an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) for each emergency they might encounter. A successful emergency plan outlines worst-case scenarios, how they might impact business or employees, and the response. We recommend holding a roundtable meeting with management to brainstorm possible scenarios and to build a comprehensive strategy. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has offered guidance on creating an Emergency Action Plan, including evacuation plans, a preferred method of reporting emergencies, and procedures for employees who remain onsite during or after the event. Learn more about creating a comprehensive Emergency Action Plan here.

Make Campus Evacuation Routes Known

Have an evacuation plan in place for your organization. Some organizations are required to have an evacuation plan that meets specific criteria. Make sure to follow the guidelines required of your organization and industry. Beyond meeting the necessary requirements, ensure your employees are made aware of the evacuation plan, including specific routes and exits, emergency functions, and who is responsible for performing them, as well as the conditions that activate the plan. It's your responsibility to ensure your employees know how to handle the basics of an earthquake emergency. Practice the evacuation plan with your employees at least once a year.


Arrange Your Office for Safety

When it comes to earthquakes, a significant danger comes from being hit by structural furnishings or inadequately secured materials. It's not uncommon for office spaces to have large filing cabinets, bookshelves, and even artwork hanging on the walls that could cause severe injuries if unsecured. So, be mindful when setting up your workspace. Ensure bookshelves are properly secured to the walls, and that filing cabinet and other large or heavy objects, like furniture, are away from where people sit or spend a lot of time. To better help you identify hazards, think about which items would cause injury if your workplace were picked up and shaken sideways.

Choose Safe Places

In the event of an earthquake, choose what OSHA describes as "safe places." Take shelter in a low and covered place that protects you from falling or flying objects. Safe places may include the space under a sturdy desk or against an interior wall away from windows, bookcases, or heavy items that could topple over. Follow what OSHA calls "drop, cover, and hold." Once you've dropped to the ground and taken cover, hold onto something, like the leg of a desk, if possible. Make sure to keep your head down to protect your eyes. Stay in this safe place until after the shaking stops. Be aware of aftershocks or earthquakes that follow the largest shock of the earthquake sequence.

Keep Emergency Supplies Stocked

It's important to ensure your workplace has enough emergency supplies stocked up for all employees. Supplies may include a first aid kit, water, a tool kit, and dust masks. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends emergency supply kits containing items to help individuals survive for at least three days. Learn more about building a disaster supplies kit by downloading FEMA's recommended items list here. Make sure your disaster supplies can be accessed easily in the event of an emergency.


Earthquakes are often unexpected – that's one reason they're so dangerous. Be diligent in taking the necessary precautions to prepare for an earthquake to keep you and your employees safe. For more information on earthquake safety and guidance from OSHA, click here.


Greg Andress
Greg Andress

Greg Andress, Director of Risk Management Services for Frank Winston Crum Insurance, is a 30+ veteran of the insurance industry who has spent more than 20 years in risk management/loss control. With clients in many industries, Greg has developed proactive loss control programs, training materials and technical bulletins; and delivered training for hundreds of clients nationwide to help them understand how they can identify and control their total cost of loss.