maritime workers comp

Labor Law Deep Dive: Workers’ comp for maritime and Department of Energy employees


  • Federal employees, contractors, and subcontractors may be covered by specific Workers’ Compensation provisions if they work in specific facilities, jobs, or geographic locations.
  • Typically, the Department of Labor administers the Workers’ Compensation programs regardless of other jurisdiction.
  • Employers of federal workers are required by certain laws to obtain insurance coverage for specific groups of individuals or risk civil or criminal liability.

If you manage workers on Federal jobs, you should know wage replacement as well as medical and occupational rehabilitation assistance is available through the Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP).

The federal government has numerous specialized programs for civilian workers in a variety of industries. Since the federal program is so broad, we’ll zero in on two examples that could impact you and your employees in specific industrial areas: workers at docks and harbors and employees with the Department of Energy.

Longshoremen and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act

Certain maritime employees as well as civilian workers on military bases around the globe are covered by the Longshoremen and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA). The Act only applies to maritime employees and employers:

  • Maritime employees include longshoremen, harbor workers, and most others working at the docks, a shipyard, or shipping terminal.
  • Civilian employees on military bases are covered by a separate federal law called the Defense Base Act.
  • LHWCA benefits are often better than those provided by state workers’ compensation acts and programs.
  • Benefits include temporary total and partial disability, and permanent total or partial disability.

Employers are required to obtain longshore insurance coverage from an authorized carrier or secure authorization from the OWCP to be self-insured. Non-compliance can result in criminal or civil liability.

Status versus Situs

Benefits are available to maritime employees who meet the “status” and “situs” tests.

The Status Test considers the nature of the work performed by the employee. It must necessarily be defined as maritime work, meaning the primary duties have something to do with the water or marine transport.

Employees who assist in loading and unloading vessels, ship repair persons, shipbuilders, and ship breakers pass the status test. The same goes for truck drivers for vehicles transporting shipping containers and the mechanics that maintain the trucks.

Excluded workers, on the other hand, include marina office workers, shipbuilders of recreational vessels smaller than 65 feet in length, and mechanics or repairers of recreational vessels. Also, fish farming workers and the captains and crew of any type of vessel are not covered.

The Situs Test considers the location where the employee generally works for the employer. To be covered, the employee must work on, near, or adjacent to navigable water. This definition includes non-crew and non-command employees on vessels, and workers on piers, wharves, dry docks, terminals, and other areas for unloading, loading, repairing, dismantling, or building a vessel.

A rule of thumb is employees who work more than a mile away from the water or the border of the shipyard or terminal are not considered to be near enough to the water for LHWCA coverage.

Energy Employees’ Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act

The Energy Employees’ Occupational Illness Compensation Program Actcompensates current or former employees of the Department of Energy (EEOICPA) or its predecessors—and of certain vendors, contractors, and subcontractors—who are diagnosed with specific conditions resulting from exposure to radiation, beryllium, or silica while employed at covered facilities. The EEOICPA also covers those employees’ survivors.

The conditions covered are:

  • A radiogenic cancer
  • Chronic beryllium disease
  • Beryllium sensitivity
  • Chronic silicosis

Part B of the Act provides as much as $150,000 compensation, as well as payment of medical expenses from the date claim filing, and is available for covered employees or their survivors in the case of death.

Coverage includes DOE employees, contractors, subcontractors, and designated beryllium vendors who were exposed to any beryllium produced or processed for the DOE and develop Chronic Beryllium Disease. It also includes those who worked at least 250 days during tunnel mining at specific underground nuclear weapons test sites who develop Chronic Silicosis.

Uranium workers or their survivors are eligible for compensation up to $50,000 and payment of medical expenses from the claim filing date.

Those who developed beryllium sensitivity after on-the-job exposure to beryllium may receive medical monitoring to check for Chronic Beryllium Disease.

Part E provides further compensation and payment to those who worked for the DOE and developed an illness due to exposure to toxic substances at certain DOE facilities. Compensation is based on wage loss, impairment, and survivorship.

Federal employers and those who employ Federal workers for maritime work or at Department of Energy employment should remain cognizant of the LHWCA and EEOICPA regulations and any changes that may occur in the future.

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