Beach Cleanup Work Was Not Covered By the Longshore Act

Claimant alleged  multiple health issues stemming from her work as an “oil recovery technician” in Prince William Sound in 1989.  At that time, Claimant worked for Employer, which was contracted to conduct clean-up operations after the Exxon Valdez oil spill.  Claimant’s employment required that she live aboard a cruise vessel located on the Prince William Sound.  Each day, a small landing craft would take her to shore where she would use special equipment to clear the beach of oil.  At the end of her day, Claimant would return to the cruise vessel which constituted her living quarters.

Before a formal hearing took place, the administrative law judge asked for briefs on Longshore situs and status.  Thereafter the judge granted summary decision in Employer’s favor, determining that Claimant did not meet the Longshore status requirements.  Cleaning oil from beaches did not involve loading, unloading, constructing and/or repairing vessels.

Ultimately the Benefits Review Board reversed the grant of summary decision, but not because of the beach cleanup issue.  The BRB clearly affirmed “the administrative law judge’s findings that claimant’s beach cleanup work on land and removal of oil-absorbent materials from the vessel in furtherance of that work is not covered under the Act.”  Instead, the BRB reversed so that the judge could more fully consider Claimant’s alleged exposure to harmful materials while she was on the cruise vessel and landing vessel (as opposed to her exposure to the same substances on the beach).  Finally, the BRB also advised the judge to more fully consider whether Claimant was “transiently and fortuitously” physically present in the navigable water of Prince William Sound.

Downey-Stammet v. CH2M Hill Alaska, Inc., BRB Nos. 13-0076 and 13-0076A (11/18/2013)