We have talked at length about the Longshore & Harbor Workers Compensation Act and, by extension, the Defense Base Act. We have not really talked much about the Outer Continental Shelf Act, which provides for another extension of the Longshore & Harbor Workers Compensation Act to compensate those workers injured while working in the oil & gas industry on the Outer Continental Shelf.
History of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA)
The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) was passed in 1953 to define a body of law applicable to the seabed, the subsoil, and the fixed structures on the Outer Continental Shelf. It also served to create a compromise on the issue of whether the natural resources lying off the coast of the United States belonged to the state or the federal government. Additionally, it provided for the manner in which leases would be awarded for oil & gas exploration and extraction.
The Act defines the defines the Outer Continental Shelf as “all submerged lands lying seaward of state coastal waters (3 miles offshore) which are under U.S. jurisdiction.” The Gulf of Mexico limits are different; Florida and Texas have 9 mile boundaries, and Louisiana has a 3 nautical mile limit.
One provision of this Act incorporates the Longshore & Harbor Workers Compensation Act as the method of dealing with injured workers’ claims. This extension of protection for workers under the LHWCA was to help keep the workers compensation consistent with other workers similarly situated.
The pertinent parts of the law are quoted below, 43 United States Code, section 1333, subsection (b):
(b) Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act applicable; definitions
With respect to disability or death of an employee resulting from any injury occurring as the result of operations conducted on the outer Continental Shelf for the purpose of exploring for, developing, removing, or transporting by pipeline the natural resources, or involving rights to the natural resources, of the subsoil and seabed of the outer Continental Shelf, compensation shall be payable under the provisions of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act [33 U.S.C. 901 et seq.]. For the purposes of the extension of the provisions of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act under this section—
(1) the term ‘‘employee’’ does not include a master or member of a crew of any vessel, or an officer or employee of the United States or any agency thereof or of any State or foreign government, or of any political subdivision thereof;
(2) the term ‘‘employer’’ means an employer any of whose employees are employed in such operations; and
(3) the term ‘‘United States’’ when used in a geographical sense includes the outer Continental Shelf and artificial islands and fixed structures thereon.
It seems fairly straightforward, doesn’t it? Not so fast, there are other forces at work in a situation where a worker has been injured and is seeking compensation.
Solving The Puzzle
If you or someone you know has been injured while working offshore in the oil & gas industry, it can be a confusing process to determine which remedy or workers compensation plan applies. The multitude consists of state act workers’ compensation laws, the Longshore Act, the OCSLA, the General Maritime Law, and liability remedies under the Jones Act, the Death On the High Seas Act. There may also be tort remedies under either state law or federal admiralty law.
The type of remedy available depends on a number of criteria, and in some cases, may involve more than one remedy.
One determining factor is the location of the rig. If you are working on a fixed oil rig in state waters, then that state’s workers compensation program will adjudicate your claim. If you are working in federal waters, then the Longshore & Harbor Workers Compensation Act will apply. Where and how to pursue your claim is a question to be answered by attorneys experienced in this type of law.
“Situs” and “Status”
“Situs” refers to the location of the employer’s operation. If they are conducting oil & gas exploration or extraction on, or transport from the Outer Continental Shelf, then the OCSLA rules apply. The place where the injury occurred no longer matters, according to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, as long as there is a “substantial nexus” between the injury and the employer’s extracting operations on the OCS. Even workers onshore may be covered under OCSLA because of the location of the employer’s operation.
“Status” refers to the status of the injured worker. They must be performing work integral to operations conducted on the OCS for the purpose of exploring for, developing, removing or transporting by pipeline the natural resources of the subsoil and seabed of the OCS. If they are a member of the crew on a vessel, then the LHWCA does not apply to them, but other remedies, such as those under the Jones Act, may be available.
It is interesting to note that for some time there was much discussion – and litigation – about whether a semi-submersible rig or jack-up rig was considered a vessel or a fixture on the ocean floor for the purposes of adjudicating injury claims. Courts have pretty much settled on the concept that they are considered the same
Get Expert Help
This discussion is by no means comprehensive – there are a variety of situations that could affect an injured worker’s claim. We will explore some issues on this topic in other articles, so consider this the “Intro” course to OCSLA.
If you or someone you know has been injured while working in the oil & gas industry offshore, you should consult with an attorney experienced in the LHWCA and OCSLA to determine how best to pursue your claim. Because of the various remedies that may be available, you likely need guidance in how to best obtain compensation for your injury. The maze of laws that surround these types of claims is complicated, and you want to ensure that you get the best result possible.