There are plenty of ways for a longshoreman to be injured on the job. And when it happens, it’s usually obvious. Something goes wrong, either with a procedure or a piece of equipment, the worker is in direct proximity when the failure occurs, and an injury results. But not all injuries are obvious, nor are they all caused by a single exposure to a harmful event.
While the typical on-the-job accident leads to an acute injury, occupational diseases occur over time and are much more difficult to identify. When a longshoreman is exposed to harmful conditions or substances for a sufficient period, the exposure can create medical issues for the employee.
Things like chemicals or particulates can wreak havoc on the employee’s body over time, leading to illnesses that may not become apparent until long after the exposure occurs. Examples include mesothelioma, asthma, skin conditions and auto-immune diseases.
How does the LHWCA handle occupational diseases?
The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) is the federal law which covers work-related injuries and its resulting compensation. The Act includes occupational diseases within its framework. Normally, an employee would file a claim for workers’ compensation immediately after the injury occurred. But that’s rarely possible when the injury is a disease.
Instead, the LHWCA gives the employee two years to file a claim from the date they became aware that the disease from which they suffer was caused by their employment. This could be years after the employee actually did the work that caused the ailment. It could even be after they retire. Regardless the LHWCA puts no time limit on the discovery and diagnosis of the disease itself – only on the time to file a claim once the disease is discovered and related back to the employment.