Longshore and Harbor Workers' Act Location Coverage

The Parties

Mr. Malta worked for Wood Group Production Services as an offshore warehouseman on the Black Bay Central Facility. This was a fixed platform located in Louisiana state territorial waters.

Wood Group Production Services acted as a contractor for the Helis Oil and Gas Company. Wood Group provided support on the Central Facility for various satellite oil and gas production platforms which were located in the Helis Black Bay field.

The Facts

Mr. Malta worked for Wood Group Production Services as an offshore warehouseman on the Black Bay Central Facility. This fixed platform was located in Louisiana state territorial waters.  Wood Group Production Services, a contractor for Helis Oil and Gas Company, provided support on the Central Facility. They did so for various satellite oil and gas production platforms which were located in the Helis Black Bay field.

The Central Facility included living quarters for the workers who operated the satellite production platforms.  While other workers left the Central Facility each morning in order to work on the satellite platforms, Mr. Malta remained on the Central Facility platform throughout his work shift.  The Central Facility platform also contained a warehouse and three cranes which were used for loading and unloading vessels.  In addition, most of the equipment and supplies which were needed for operations in the Helis Black Bay field were shipped by vessel from Venice, Louisiana to the warehouse on the Central Facility. These materials would include pipes, nitrogen cylinders, flanges, tool bags, valves, compressors, repair parts, and drinkable water.  These supplies and equipment were unloaded from the vessels and then they were stored in the warehouse on the Central Facility.   And when workers on the satellite platforms needed supplies, those supplies were loaded onto vessels at the Central Facility and then shipped to the satellite platforms. The uncontroverted (unopposed) hearing testimony of both Mr. Malta and Ray Pitre (Wood Group Production Services’ project manager) established that loading and unloading vessels at the Central Facility were a large part of Mr. Malta’s job and that he performed these activities on a daily basis.

On April 14, 2012, Mr. Malta, who was on the Central Facility platform in front of the warehouse, was injured while in the course of unloading a vessel.  A crane had lifted a cargo basket containing a CO2 cylinder mislabeled as “empty” off the vessel.  As Mr. Malta removed the cylinder from the cargo basket, it then forcefully discharged.  While diving out of the way of the cylinder, Mr. Malta sustained injuries to his back, left arm and shoulder, and left foot.

Employment Conditions

The injuries

Mr. Malta sustained injuries to his back, left arm and shoulder, and his left foot.

The employer’s actions

Wood Group Production Services contested coverage under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, but paid Mr. Malta temporary total disability benefits under the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Act.

Results of the Initial Hearing

In the initial hearing, the administrative law judge found that Mr. Malta’s injury did not occur in a covered location.  More specifically, the administrative law judge found that the Black Bay Central Facility is not an “other adjoining area” for purposes of coverage under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act.  As a result, he denied the claim for benefits.  In addition, the administrative law judge denied Mr. Malta’s motion for reconsideration.

The Appeal

On appeal, Mr. Malta challenged the administrative law judge’s finding that the Black Bay Central Facility is not a covered location.  Wood Group Production Services responded by urging that the initial ruling be affirmed. The Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (the Director), also responded, advocating that the Board reverse the administrative law judge’s finding that the Central Facility is not a covered location.  Mr. Malta filed a reply brief addressing the arguments made in Wood Group Production Services’ response brief.

To obtain benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation  Act, a claimant must establish that his injury occurred on a covered location.  Section 3(a) of the Act states:

Except as otherwise provided in this section, compensation shall be payable under this chapter in respect of disability or death of an employee, but only if the disability or death results from an injury occurring upon the navigable waters of the United States (including any adjoining pier, wharf, dry dock, terminal, building way, marine railway, or other adjoining area customarily used by an employer in loading, unloading, repairing, dismantling, or building a vessel).

In this case, Mr. Malta’s injury happened on a fixed platform. For purposes of the Act, those are considered to be artificial islands.

As a result, because Mr. Malta was not injured on navigable waters or on one of the sites specifically listed in Section 3(a), the location requirement would be satisfied only if his injury occurred in an “other adjoining area customarily used by an employer” in loading or unloading a vessel.

Hence by construing the “other adjoining area” provision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, within whose jurisdiction this case arose, held that “an ‘other adjoining area’ must satisfy two distinct situs components: (1) a geographic component (the area must adjoin navigable waters) and (2) a functional component (the area must be ‘customarily used by an employer in loading [or] unloading…a vessel’).”  Martin, 732 F.3d at 461, 47 BRBS at 40(CRT)

The Ruling on Appeal

The administrative appeals judges reversed the administrative law judge’s finding that Mr. Malta’s injury did not occur on a site covered by Section 3(a). They felt that the Central Facility functioned as a kind of offshore dock and a collection and distribution facility which was used to unload and store supplies and equipment delivered from the mainland by certain vessels and also to load materials onto other vessels for delivery to the satellite oil and gas production platforms.  They also vacated the denial of benefits. As a result, the case was remanded (returned to the administrative law judge) for consideration of the remaining issues.

The Takeaway

Location matters for Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act claims, and working on a fixed platform fits the bill as a covered site.