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 damage to buildings and bridges; 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. All 50 states, five U.S. territories and the District of Columbia are at some risk for earthquakes. Earthquakes can occur at any time of the year.

Ground movement during an earthquake is seldom the direct cause of death or injury. Most earthquake-related injuries result from walls or floors collapsing, glass flying, and objects falling as a result of the ground shaking or people trying to move more than a few feet during the shaking.

Earthquake Preparedness

During earthquakes and in their immediate aftermath, workers are primarily in danger of being struck by structural components, furnishings, or inadequately secured stored materials; burns from building fires resulting from gas leaks or electrical shorts; and exposure to released chemicals. Many of the hazards to workers both during and following an earthquake are predictable and may be reduced through hazard identification, planning, and mitigation.

There are many things employers can do to prepare their workplaces before an earthquake occurs:

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