ODPEM Government of Jamaica
Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management
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Earthquake Safety in the Workplace

 


Maintain a Company Disaster Plan

 

All companies have an obligation to their employees to maintain a disaster plan. An emergency evacuation area must be designed, a nearby safe area, preferably outdoor, where workers can get together after a fire or earthquake. It should be out in the open away from buildings or power-lines. If there is no open space nearby, designate some other safe place.

Set up a procedure to account for all employees. If there is a register assign some one to take this with them when evacuating the building.

Identify evacuation routes and alternate routes, and keep them clear of any obstructions. Plan assistance for people with disabilities, employees, and people who maybe visiting and conduct drills.

Assign and train teams of employees to handle basic first aid, search and rescue, fire response, evacuation, damage assessment, and security. Train all employees in earthquake preparedness and identify safe places at work. Appoint and train wardens to take leadership in emergencies. Conduct regular evacuation drills.

 

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Conduct a Hazard Hunt

 

Identify those items in your office that can become hazardous and injure persons during an earthquake. Common office hazards include:

  • Tall shelves
  • Bookshelves
  • Tall and heavy lamps
  • Hanging plants
  • Heavy objects on walls
  • Windows, air conditioners, PA systems
  • Light fixtures
  • Desks by windows
  • Heavy pictures
  • Gas stoves
  • Unsecured TVs, typewriters and computers. Attach these items to their stands with industrial strength velcro or by bolting them to the stand using a detachable leash attached to the wall
  • File cabinets: these will tip over unless they are bolted to the floor. Bolting them together also increase their stability. Be sure the drawers can lock when they are closed, because if a drawer slides open during an earthquake it can injure someone.
  • Ceiling partions
  • Signs
  • Fans
  • Water tanks – on roof can affect the load bearing capacity of the roof causing it to fail

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Conduct Regular Earthquake Drills

In order that your staff knows how to respond during an earthquake, it is essential that they practice these procedures by conducting earthquake drills until they are second nature.

There are six components to an earthquake drill:

 

Alarm:

During the alarm stage, a loud warning device such as a bell or buzzer alerts those involved in the drill. This must be a pre-arranged signal known by everyone, so that all will respond appropriately.

Response:
During the response phase, everyone heads for cover. Persons get under a heavy desk, table, chair, and bed or under a doorjamb. Make sure you move away from windows, glass or light fixtures. If there is not cover available, crouch and try to protect your head.

Evacuation:
After remaining in your respective safe-place until the shaking has stopped, persons should then evacuate the building. The evacuation proceeds through pre-determined safe routes and evacuees gather outside in a safe area away from buildings, fences, walls, electricity poles, bridges and trees.

Assembly:
At the assembly point, the evacuees are grouped in order of classrooms, departments or floors – whichever is more convenient to facilitate the next step, which is roll call.

Roll Call:
During the roll call, teachers, floor wardens, or others designated before-hand determine if everyone is present. In the event of a real earthquake, a search and rescue team would have to be dispatched to look for those missing.

Evaluation:

After the roll call, there should be an evaluation where the institution identifies snags in the drill, problem areas, or potential problem areas.

Remember that only by practicing will occupants of a building be reasonably sure that in the event of a serious earthquake they will be able to respond appropriately.

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High Rise Buildings

 

Most of the guidelines for earthquake preparation in other buildings also apply to high rise buildings.

When a high rise building is designed without earthquake protection, the building is designed to withstand its own weight as well as the weight of the contents, and hold up against wind.

Earthquake engineering adds other dimensions, because the building must be able to hold together as it is shaken from side to side and up and down.

The roof and walls are tied together so that the walls do not pull apart and allow the roof to fall. Some multi-storey buildings have been designed to be flexible while holding together.

The building is designed to sway as a unit in a side to side motion. Without this planned flexibility, the various elements of a large building would move at different rates, creating additional stresses within the building that could weaken it to the point of collapse.

During large earthquakes, expect windows to break, plaster and suspended ceilings to fall.

If high rise buildings are designed to sway as they should during earthquakes, unsecured objects will slide around inside, particularly on the upper floors. That is why it is important to secure the furnishings of a high rise building. Anchoring pieces of furniture will prevent them from sliding back and forth, even acting as battering rams to break through windows or walls. Carpets may help reduce this action. Large windows above the fourth and fifth floor would have guard rails installed on the inside, and/ or shatter resistant plastic film on the glass.

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Safety At Work During an Earthquake

In an office building, the safest place is usually under a desk, protecting you from filing cabinets, bookshelves and other tall office furniture that could easily fall during an earthquake. In industrial buildings, with the additional hazards of heavy equipment and supplies, try to locate safe places in advance.

 

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