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Disaster Preparedness

How to Clean Up After an Earthquake

After authorities say it’s safe to resume normal business operations, there are several precautions you can take to keep your work environment safe. 

Evaluate your worksite for hazards. 

Keep an eye out for safety and health hazards before you get to work. Following an earthquake, these can include:

  • Breaks in water systems that can flood low areas, like basements 
  • Sewer system breaks that can create sanitation issues
  • Exposed electrical wiring
  • Dust and other particles that can be harmful if inhaled 
  • Gas leaks
  • Unstable buildings 
  • Slip, trip or fall hazards
  • Falling objects
  • Fire

Take a look at the full list of earthquake-related hazards on the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s (OSHA) website. 

If you encounter hazards, address them before continuing work. 

  • Eliminate the problem wherever possible. For example, you should remove a fallen power line before working on anything else in the area.
  • Get ahead of equipment-related injuries: You can do this by guarding the
    “pinch points” on a piece of heavy equipment, or making sure the cab is temperature-controlled.
  • Make sure your team is well-rested: Decrease the chances they’ll make a mistake on the job by giving them frequent breaks and making sure they’re getting the rest they need.
  • Work in the daylight. This is especially true for high-hazard or unfamiliar tasks. 
  • Keep the workspace clean. Decontaminate equipment or personnel if they come into contact with contaminated water or chemicals. 
  • Use the right personal protective equipment (PPE). Use PPE that’s appropriate for the task your team is working on. See more about how to select and use PPE here. 

Be careful working in or near collapsed buildings.

If your work takes you in or near a collapsed structure, establish an “incident command team,” per OSHA.

  • This usually includes appointing an incident commander, who’s the person responsible for employees on the job. 
  • You may also appoint a safety officer who reports to the incident commander. 
  • This team should make sure your employees use best practices to avoid injuries. The team should also investigate and document any injuries or illnesses that occur while your team’s at work. 
  • Additionally, they should ensure the right use of PPE and keep an eye out for developing hazards.  

See the full recommendations for how to establish and run an incident command system here. See more about how to select and use PPE here. 

This checklist is not exhaustive. Familiarize yourself with OSHA recommendations for earthquake response work, as well as National Institute of Environmental Health and Sciences (NIEHS) guidelines.

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