|<< Back to Safety and Health Guides
|The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) requires employers to comply with hazard-specific safety and
health standards. In addition, pursuant to Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act, employers must provide their employees with a workplace
free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm. Emergency Preparedness Guides do not and cannot enlarge or
diminish an employer's obligations under the OSH Act.
Emergency Preparedness Guides are based on presently available information, as well as current occupational safety and health provisions
and standards. The procedures and practices discussed in Emergency Preparedness Guides may need to be modified when additional, relevant
information becomes available or when OSH Act standards are promulgated or modified.
What is an earthquake?
An earthquake is a sudden, rapid shaking of the ground caused by the breaking
and shifting of rock beneath the Earth's surface. This shaking can cause
buildings and bridges to collapse; disrupt gas, electric, and phone service; and
sometimes trigger landslides, avalanches, flash floods, fires, and huge,
destructive ocean waves (tsunamis). Buildings with foundations resting on
unconsolidated landfill, old waterways, or other unstable soil are most at risk.
Buildings or trailers and manufactured homes not tied to a reinforced foundation
anchored to the ground are also at risk since they can be shaken off their
mountings during an earthquake. Earthquakes can occur at any time of the year.
What hazards are associated with earthquakes?
When an earthquake
occurs in a populated area, it may cause deaths and injuries
and extensive property damage.
Ground movement during an earthquake is seldom the direct
cause of death or injury. Most earthquake-related injuries
result from collapsing walls, flying glass, and falling
objects as a result of the ground shaking, or people trying
to move more than a few feet during the shaking. Much of
the damage in earthquakes is predictable and preventable.
What are aftershocks?
Aftershocks are smaller earthquakes that follow the main
shock and can cause further damage to weakened buildings.
After-shocks can occur in the first hours, days, weeks,
or even months after the quake. Be aware that some earthquakes
are actually foreshocks, and a larger earthquake might
What can I do to prepare before an earthquake occurs?
- Pick "safe places". A safe place could
be under a sturdy table or desk or against an interior
wall away from windows and bookcases, or tall furniture
that could fall on you. The shorter the distance to move
to safety, the less likely you will be injured. Injury
statistics show that people moving as little as 10 feet
during an earthquake's shaking are most likely to be
- Practice drop, cover, and hold-on in each safe place.
Drop under a sturdy desk or table and hold on to
one leg of the table or desk. Protect your eyes by keeping
your head down. Practice these actions so that they become
an automatic response.
- Practice drop, cover, and hold-on at least twice a
year. Frequent practice will help reinforce safe
behavior. When an earthquake or other disaster
occurs, many people hesitate, trying to remember what
they are supposed to do. Responding quickly and automatically
may help protect you from injury.
- Wait in your safe place until the shaking stops, then
check to see if you are hurt. You will be better
able to help others if you take care of yourself first,
then check the people around you. Move carefully and
watch out for things that have fallen or broken, creating
hazards. Be ready for aftershocks.
- Be on the lookout 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, not the elevator. Earthquakes
can cause fire alarms and fire sprinklers to go off.
You will not be certain whether there is a real threat
of fire. As a precaution, use the stairs.
- If you're outside in an earthquake, stay outside.
Move away from buildings, trees, streetlights,
and power lines. Crouch down and cover your head. Many
injuries occur within 10 feet of the entrance to buildings.
Bricks, roofing, and other materials can fall from buildings,
injuring persons nearby. Trees, streetlights, and power
lines may also fall, causing damage or injury.
- Inform workers of the plan. Everyone in your workplace
should know what to do if an earthquake
- Get training. Take a first aid class from your local
Red Cross chapter. Get training on
how to use a fire extinguisher. Keep your training current.
Training will help you to keep calm and know what to
do when an earthquake occurs.
- Discuss earthquakes with workers. Everyone should
know what to do. Discussing earthquakes
ahead of time helps reduce fear and anxiety and lets
everyone know how to respond.
Collapsed structures are a common
result of earthquakes. Rescue workers and emergency responders may have to enter
collapsed structures to perform search and rescue activities, and it is vital
that they perform their duties safely.
What is a collapsed structure?
When internal load bearing structural elements fail, a building will collapse
into itself and exterior walls are pulled into the falling structure. This scenario
may be caused by construction activity, an earthquake or fire and may result
in a dense debris field with a small footprint. Alternatively, if the structural
failure is caused by an explosion or natural forces such as weather, the building
may collapse in an outward direction resulting in a less dense and scattered
Who enters a collapsed structure?
a catastrophic failure of a structure,
rescue workers and emergency responders may be required
to enter the collapsed structure. Emergency responders
include firefighters, police, emergency medical technicians,
construction workers and government representatives. Emergency
responders may be responsible for assisting survivors,
extinguishing fires, shutting off utilities, assessing
structural instabilities, shoring-up safe paths into the
structure and assessment of other hazards such as airborne
contaminants. Rescue workers such as Urban Search and Rescue
Teams focus on finding survivors and later removing victims
from collapsed structures.
Organizing Rescue Workers and Emergency Responders
What is the organizational structure for the response to these events?
Although these catastrophic events may initially be quite chaotic, eventually
site management will be under a unified command such as the recognized Incident
Command Structure. Local responders and rescuers will obviously respond first
with the State requesting Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance
A trained Structures Specialist from Urban Search and Rescue will
be responsible for:
- Evaluating the immediate structural condition of the area to be entered
during rescue operations.
- Determining the appropriate type and amount of structural hazard
mitigation in order to minimize risks on site to rescue personnel.
What safety and health resources are available during a collapsed
Once the Incident Command System is
established at a collapsed structure, the Incident Commander
maintains accountability for all response personnel at the
scene. A Safety Officer may also be mobilized and
report directly to the Incident Commander. The Safety Officer is responsible for monitoring and
assessing the safety aspects of the responders during the collapsed
structure event. The Safety Officer’s
responsibilities may include:
- Overseeing all safety and health aspects of response personnel
- Assuring that optimal safety and injury prevention is
- Investigating and documenting all response team injuries
- Preparing and maintaining entry permits
- Ensuring that appropriate personal protective equipment
(PPE) is used
- Developing and implementing daily health and safety plans
which address (1) sanitation, (2) hygiene, (3) PPE, (4)
Decontamination, (5) work/rest cycles, (6) acute medical
- Interviewing off-going shifts to assess developing hazards
- Assessing risk for the identified hazards; and
- Training in hazard awareness and use of PPE
- Assessing structural instabilities
What hazards may be encountered
when entering a collapsed structure?
The following hazards should be considered in order to protect rescue workers and emergency
responders when preparing to enter a collapsed structure:
- Water system breaks that may flood basement areas
- Exposure to pathogens from sanitary sewer system breaks
- Exposed and energized electrical wiring
- Exposure to airborne smoke and dust (asbestos, silica,
- Exposure to bloodborne pathogens
- Exposure to hazardous materials (ammonia, battery
acid, leaking fuel, etc.)
- Natural gas leaks creating flammable and toxic environment
- Structural instability
- Insufficient oxygen
- Confined spaces
- Slip, trip or fall hazards from holes, protruding
- Being struck by a falling object
- Proximity to heavy machinery such as cranes
- Sharp objects such as glass and debris
- Secondary collapse from aftershock, vibration and
- Unfamiliar surroundings
- Adverse weather conditions
- Noise from equipment (generators/heavy machines)
Additional Federal Resources