Offshore wind workers fall into gray area of personal injury law
Offshore wind farm development is set to increase in the United States, and the coastal areas of Georgia could provide an important source of energy. In regards to compensation for injured workers, many of the people building offshore wind farms could encounter difficulty accurately classifying their work status. For years, employment and personal injury laws have separated workers according to land-based and maritime occupations. Offshore workers not associated with seagoing vessels present new questions about their status.
Laws for injured workers
Over the last century, the government has passed these laws for injured workers:
- Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (Jones Act)
- Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act
- Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act
- State-level workers’ compensation
The Jones Act enables injured workers to pursue compensation if they meet the criteria for a seaman. Seaman are people who contribute to running a ship and are directly connected to the vessel, meaning they are on the crew.
The LHWCA extends benefits to people who work in harbors and shipyards. The OCSLA grants the rights within the LHWCA to people employed offshore for the exploration and extraction of natural resources, like oil.
Where do offshore wind farm workers fit in?
People working on an offshore wind turbine do not qualify as seamen because they are not on a vessel. The wind turbine is attached to the seabed. They are not necessarily harbor workers either, and developments related to harvesting wind power are not viewed as extraction, like oil and gas.
In many cases, offshore wind farm workers appear likely to be covered by state-level workers’ compensation insurance provided by employers. However, people injured on boats or in shipyards may have a legal right to make a claim for damages against ship and shipyard operators depending on the circumstances.