The Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA) is a federally promulgated law that created a system for compensation, medical care and services, as well as vocational rehabilitation services to employees injured while working on the navigable waters of the United States and adjoining areas (piers, docks, wharves, terminals) where ships are loaded, unloaded, built, or repaired. Employees covered under the LHWCA include longshore workers, shipbuilders, ship-repairers, ship-breakers, and harbor construction workers. The LHWCA also pays survivor benefits to dependents if the work-related injury causes, or contributes to, an employee’s death. Employers are required to pay compensation and medical benefits for covered employees through commercial insurance companies or through self-insurance. In either case, the chosen insurance must be authorized by the Department of Labor.

There have been additional laws created to cover employees working at defense bases overseas and employees working on government contracts outside the country (on public, defense, or military projects), coverage for civilian employees working on military bases (usually at exchanges or recreational facilities that enhance welfare or morale), and employees working on the Outer Continental Shelf of the U.S. exploring and developing natural resources (for example, off-shore oil rig workers).

People not covered under the LHWCA include seamen, employees of the U.S. government or any state or foreign government, employees who are injured due to intoxication, and employees who willfully intended to injure themselves.  Seamen are defined as individuals working on a ship who contribute to the function of the vessel or the accomplishment of its mission. Workplace injuries for seamen are covered by the Jones Act.

Other employees are not covered by the LHWCA if they are covered under state workers’ compensation laws. They include people hired exclusively to perform clerical work, secretarial services, data processing, or security.  The following are also not covered: employees of a restaurant. bar or club, counselors or workers at a camp or other recreational business, museum, retail workers, marina employees not engaged in construction, replacement, or expansion of such marina (except for routine maintenance), aquaculture workers, and anyone employed to build recreational vessels less than sixty-five feet long, or repair or dismantle any recreational vessel.

The LHWCA is administered by the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) and its’ Division of Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation (DLHWC). The DLWHC maintains all records of injuries or deaths, reviews claims, determines the level of benefits, and assures compliance and payments. The DLWHC staff also assists employers, employees, and insurance companies with benefits.  They can also help with disputes during informal conferences and can refer cases for a formal hearing.  The DLWHC provides vocational rehabilitation services for the permanently disabled.  There are DLWHC offices in Boston, Honolulu, Houston, Jacksonville, Long Beach, New Orleans, New York, Norfolk, San Francisco, and Seattle (the contact information is on the Department of Labor website).

If a person covered under the LHWCA is injured, there are steps that must be followed. Seek medical attention and a supervisor or employee representative must be notified of the injury as soon as possible.  If the injury is an emergency, the necessary form requesting medical treatment (Form LS-1) may be turned in after treatment.  If it is not an emergency, the employee should ask the employer for Form LS-1 in advance.  The employee may select their own physician.  Written notice of the injury must be filed with the employer within 30 days of the injury (or within 30 days after becoming aware of the injury) using Form LS-201. The same form should be used to inform an employer of an employee’s death.  If there is no written notice of injury or death, benefits under LHWCA could be jeopardized unless there is a valid reason.   The injured worker must also file Form LS-203 within one year of the injury. If the employer was paying compensation benefits voluntarily, then the claim should be filed within a year of the last of those payments. If this claim is not filed with OWCP properly, the employer could deny compensation benefits if the worker becomes disabled due to the injury. A separate form, Form LS-262, should be used to claim death benefits.

Occupational diseases, illnesses that occur because of exposure to dangerous substances (for example, mesothelioma or asthma), are covered under the LHWCA. Occupational diseases may take a lot of time to appear after the workplace exposure.  Employers need to be notified of the illness, even if it is years after the exposure. A claim should be filed complete with work history, medical history, and the diagnosis of illness and how it is tied to the workplace.  Once the illness is diagnosed, a person has two years to file a claim. Form LS-203 does not have to be filed until there is a disability associated with the occupational disease.  There is no time limit to apply for medical benefits for an occupational disease.

For new claims without OWCP file numbers, the forms should only be sent to the DLHWC District Office in New York City.  They create all the cases for new injuries regardless of where the injury occurred. If you already have a file number do not send the forms to the New York office.  Use the OWCP SEAPortal online at https://seaportal.dol-esa.gov/portal/ or send them via mail to the Jacksonville Central Mail office.

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