What is the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act?

The Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA) is a federal law that provides for the payment of compensation, medical care, and vocational rehabilitation services to employees disabled from on the job injuries that occur on the navigable waters of the United States, or in adjoining areas customarily used in the loading, unloading, repairing, or building of a vessel. The LHWCA also provides for payment of survivor benefits to dependents if the work injury causes, or contributes to, the employee's death. These benefits are typically paid by the self-insured employer or by a private insurance company on the employer's behalf. The term "injury" includes occupational diseases, hearing loss and illnesses arising out of employment.

Louisiana Coastline at dusk

Who is covered by the LHWCA?

The LHWCA covers employees in traditional maritime occupations such as longshore workers, ship-repairers, shipbuilders or ship-breakers, and harbor construction workers. The injuries must occur on the navigable waters of the United States or in the adjoining areas, including piers, docks, terminals, wharves, and those areas used in loading and unloading vessels. Non-maritime employees may also be covered if they perform their work on navigable water and their injuries occur there.

What are the Longshore Act Extensions?

Congress extended the LHWCA to include other types of employment. Employees covered by these extensions are entitled to the same benefits, and their claims are handled in the same way as Longshore Act claims. The following are the extensions of the LHWCA:

Defense Base Act (DBA) - The DBA covers the following employment activities: (1) Work for private employers on U.S. military bases or on any lands used by the U.S. for military purposes outside of the United States, including those in U.S. Territories and possessions; (2) Work on public work contracts with any U.S. government agency, including construction and service contracts in connection with national defense or with war activities outside the United States; (3) Work on contracts approved and funded by the U.S. under the Foreign Assistance Act, which among other things provides for cash sale of military equipment, materials, and services to its allies if the contract is performed outside of the United States; and (4) Work for American employers providing welfare or similar services outside the United States for the benefit of the Armed Services, e.g. the United Service Organizations (USO). To learn more about the DBA, please see the DBA FAQs.

Who is excluded from the LHWCA?

The LHWCA specifically excludes the following individuals:

  • Seamen (masters or members of a crew of any vessel - see FAQ 5);
  • Employees of the United States government or of any state or foreign government;
  • Employees whose injuries were caused solely by their intoxication; and
  • Employees whose injuries were due to their own willful intention to harm themselves or others.

The LHWCA also excludes the following individuals if they are covered by a state workers' compensation law:

  • Individuals employed exclusively to perform office clerical, secretarial, security, or data processing work;
  • Individuals employed by a club, camp, recreational operation, restaurant, museum, or retail outlet;
  • Individuals employed by a marina and who are not engaged in the construction, replacement, or expansion of such marina (except for routine maintenance);
  • Individuals who (A) are employed by suppliers, transporters, or vendors, (B) are temporarily doing business on the premises of a maritime employer, and (C) are not engaged in work normally performed by employees of that employer covered under the Act;
  • Aquaculture workers;
  • Individuals employed to build any recreational vessel under sixty-five feet in length, or to repair any recreational vessel, or to dismantle any part of a recreational vessel in connection with the repair of such vessel; and
  • Small vessel workers if exempt by certification of the Secretary of Labor under certain conditions.

What is the difference between the Jones Act and the LHWCA?

The Jones Act (46 U.S.C. § 30104) and the LHWCA (33 U.S.C. § 901-950) are mutually exclusive regimes providing compensation for work-related injuries suffered by different categories of maritime employees. The LHWCA excludes from its coverage a "master or member of a crew of any vessel." Instead, crew members are covered by the Jones Act. The term "master or member of a crew" is refinement of the term "seaman" in the Jones Act. As a result, the key requirement for Jones Act coverage appears in the LHWCA. The determination turns solely on the employee's connection to a vessel in navigation. It is not necessary that an employee aid in navigation or contribute to the transportation of the vessel in order to be "seaman" under the Jones Act, but the employee must be doing the ship's work by contributing to the function of the vessel or the accomplishment of its mission.

What is the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP)?

The Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP) is charged with oversight of four federal workers' compensation statutes, including the LHWCA, and its extensions. Within the OWCP, the Division of Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation (DLHWC) administers the LHWCA.

7. What does OWCP/DLHWC do for injured employees?

  • The OWCP/DLHWC maintains records of injuries and deaths reported under the LHWCA and its extensions and reviews claims to determine whether appropriate benefits are paid promptly and accurately in compliance with the Act's provisions.
  • Claims staff provides information and technical assistance regarding entitlement to compensation, medical benefits, and vocational rehabilitation benefits to employers, insurance carriers, and injured employees.
  • Should claim disputes arise, the OWCP/DLHWC assists the parties to resolve the disputes by conducting informal conferences and making written recommendations regarding benefit entitlement. If the parties cannot resolve their differences and any party requests a formal hearing before the Office of Administrative Law Judges (OALJ), the OWCP/DLHWC refers the case for a formal hearing.
  • Vocational rehabilitation services are provided to permanently disabled employees in appropriate cases. See the Vocational Rehabilitation FAQs for more detail.
  • The OWCP/DLHWC also administers the "Special Fund" which pays disability compensation to injured employees or their survivors in certain circumstances. 

Contact a Knowledgeable Louisiana Maritime Attorney

You need to contact an attorney quickly if you were seriously injured during a job that takes place on or near water. Schedule a consultation with the Scott Vicknair law firm today to find out how we can help protect your legal rights as a maritime worker.