Earthquakes happen every day in California. Most are too small to feel, but the Golden State has a long history of larger earthquakes with devastating results. One only needs to look at the 1989 Loma Prieta event and the 1994 Northridge earthquake as examples of what can happen. While not as devastating, the two shakers east of Bakersfield in 2019 and the 2014 Napa incident also serve as more-recent reminders about California’s earthquake history.

Is your workplace prepared to withstand an earthquake? Do your employees know what to do when the ground starts shaking? Being prepared is critical. That preparation comes in three parts: what to do before, during, and after the earthquake.

What to do before an earthquake

As the employer, you have a few precautions you’ll want to take to prepare your workplace. For starters, have plans in place on how employees should respond during the earthquake and how to evacuate the building after the shaking stops. Practice these plans throughout the year. You also want to secure shelving, file cabinets, and storage racks to the wall to keep them stable and upright. And, make sure heavy items are stored at lower heights or secured so they don’t fall.

Your employees likely have personal items in their work areas that could fall or become airborne during earthquakes. Here are some steps they can take to secure their work area:

  • Mount pictures to the wall with screws or earthquake “J” clips.
  • Keep areas under desks and tables uncluttered so they can take cover when the ground shakes.
  • Keep doors, exits, and aisle ways clear at all times in case they need to evacuate the building following an earthquake.
  • Prepare to shelter at work for at least 24 hours.
  • Prepare an emergency communications plan with an out-of-state contact.
  • Have a pair of sturdy shoes available to better navigate conditions following an earthquake.

What to do during an earthquake

When the ground starts moving, immediately Drop, Cover, and Hold On. This technique is widely recognized as the best way to respond to an earthquake.  Here’s how it works:

  • DROP to the hands and knees.
  • COVER the head and neck with one arm and hand. If possible crawl under a nearby table or desk, or next to an interior wall away from windows. Stay out of doorways.
  • HOLD ON to the table or desk with one hand until the shaking stops.
Many California businesses practice this drill during the Great California Shakeout in October. Practicing this drill throughout the year helps prepare your employees even more for an earthquake.

What to do after an earthquake

After the shaking stops, you’ll want to make sure everyone is okay. Depending on the severity of the incident you’ll need to activate your emergency response plan and evacuate the building. Remind employees to be very careful as debris scattered by the earthquake poses trip and fall hazards. Also, remind your employees about the potential for aftershocks and if one strikes, it’s time again to Drop, Cover, and Hold On.

When things have calmed down and returned to normal, assess how your employees responded to the earthquake and make any changes to your plan if needed.

Earthquakes happen. Make sure your employees know what to do to stay safe.



OSHA: Earthquake Preparedness and Response

Safety training sign-in sheet

Questions, Comments or Suggestions?

Send us your comments using the form below. To receive a response, please provide your email.

The above evaluations and/or recommendations are for general guidance only and should not be relied upon for medical advice or legal compliance purposes. They are based solely on the information provided to us and relate only to those conditions specifically discussed. We do not make any warranty, expressed or implied, that your workplace is safe or healthful or that it complies with all laws, regulations or standards.

External Link iconIndicates you are leaving Safe At Work California