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Quake Preparedness: Avoiding Injuries from Falling Items, Debris

While earthquake safety training should be a part of any California employer’s safety program, it’s important from a workplace safety perspective to understand how your employees could be injured during a temblor.

While ducking and taking cover are good skills for your employees to reduce the likelihood of injury, one area that many employers overlook is the dangers of the workplace itself to employees during a quake.

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.

Cal/OSHA many years ago actually contemplated creating new regulations that would have required employers to evaluate the hazard of objects falling or toppling during an earthquake, secure racks and protect workers with physical barriers.

In the end though, it opted against engaging in new rulemaking after concluding that existing regulations were enough, since they and the Injury and Illness Prevention Standard require employers to evaluate and mitigate workplace hazards.

Since those broad regulations could theoretically be construed as requiring certain earthquake preparedness procedures if you are located in a quake-prone area, you may want to consider these tips that were created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Cal/OSHA:

  • Check with your local building-regulatory agency to determine the seismic design provisions for your building, and whether it needs retrofitting.
  • Evaluate your workplace for non-structural weaknesses, which FEMA says can be more dangerous and costly than structural vulnerabilities. “Any non-structural items that are not effectively anchored, braced, reinforced, or otherwise secured could become safety hazards or property losses in an earthquake,” the federal agency warns.


Hazardous items can include items located six feet or more above the floor. Cal/OSHA recommends:

  • Locating employee work stations and exits away from such areas.
  • Anchoring, bracing, containing or restraining objects by using brackets, clips, latches, bolts, screws, tie-downs, braces and hook-and-loop material.
  • Using physical barriers, such as fencing, netting or barricades.
  • Restraining objects by methods designed by a California-licensed structural engineer.


Cal/OSHA requires employers to report all serious workplace injuries, including those that are the result of an earthquake.

And the main regulations governing workplace safety as it pertains to the risk of falling objects or debris during an earthquake are in Section 3241 of the California Code, which requires employers to store material in a manner that prevents it from tipping, falling, collapsing, rolling or spreading.

It also requires employers to secure merchandise on shelves higher than 12 feet in “working warehouses.”

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