OSHA has released new guidelines for protecting workers during an earthquake. They recommend that a safety management plan educate workers about hazards to avoid, safety procedures, evacuation and emergency action plans.
And it can happen anywhere.
Though this is a major concern for people living on the West Coast of the United States, it also affects employees around the country. For example, Youngstown, Ohio, one of the more unlikely spots for an earthquake, received nine jolts over an eight month period in 2011.
The major seismic areas in the U.S. are along the Pacific Coast, especially California, Washington and Alaska.
The ground physically moves from side to side during an earthquake. The tectonic plates that form the earth’s surface are constantly in motion. Thankfully, the movement is usually extremely slow. But sometimes these plates fuse, making them incapable of discharging the energy that builds up.
Then comes a mighty crash as the plates break free of each other. That’s an earthquake.
Especially in populated areas, people and buildings are vulnerable. Many deaths, injuries and damaged property are to be expected. Most of the time people suffer not from the direct effect of the earthquake, but from falling bricks, collapsing walls and airborne glass shards.
Aftershocks present a big danger. After the initial earthquake, smaller tremors happen in the following hours, days and even weeks. These can be quite strong, able to cause extensive damage. Workers need to understand that the danger doesn’t stop after the initial quake.
Predictable and Preventable
This is how OSHA describes most injuries and damage caused during this natural disaster, and the phrase “predictable and preventable” makes it incumbent upon of every safety officer to include this possibility in an effective safety management plan.
The agency has posted guidelines on their website to help management and employees prepare for an earthquake. The information includes preparing an emergency plan, response and recovery suggestions, and devising safe evacuation procedures.
One of the most important steps for safety officers is to spot hazards before an earthquake hits. Big dangers include furniture and equipment that can fall on people, objects that might block an exit and sources of hazardous materials.
Their most important job is to educate workers about what to do if an earthquake happens. And especially in earthquake-prone areas, regular drills are essential to preventing injury and deaths.
What To Do When An Earthquake Occurs
There are a number of ways to protect people in offices during an earthquake. Among other precautions, OSHA recommends that a safety management plan include:
- finding safe places within the building: typically, these are under strong desks and tables, away from bookcases and furnishings that can fall on people, causing serious injury.
- practicing until it’s automatic the sequence “drop, cover and hold”: this means drop under a sturdy table, hold on to a leg, and protect eyes and face by keeping your head down.
- drilling workers at least twice a year in earthquake safety procedures.
Interestingly, statistics prove that people who move less than 10’ during quake suffer fewer injuries. If workers must leave the building, it is essential that they take the stairs and not the elevator.
A Safety Management Plan in Action
This short video shows what it was like on the 26th floor of a Yokohama office building during the devastating March 2011 quake in Japan. Workers don’t look happy as they watch dancing file cabinets and other effects of the quake. But they stay in one place and ride it out. Japan’s office buildings are considered among the most earthquake-protected in the entire world.
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