What Is a Longshoreman?
Longshoremen are maritime employees who work at seaports and docks to load and unload ships. These workers are also commonly referred to as stevedores, a term that originated in Portugal or Spain from the word estibador, meaning "a man who stuffs." Later, the term longshoreman was adopted in the United States from the meaning "a man along the shore."
Common Responsibilities of a Longshoreman
In modern maritime jargon, longshoremen are separate from stevedores; stevedores work on ships to operate cranes and move cargo while longshoremen work primarily on docks. Longshoremen typically work loading and unloading cargo from vessels in ports, harbors, and docks. This work takes specialized knowledge of heavy machinery operation (such as cranes), as well as the proper techniques for handling hazardous materials.
While the early days of the longshore profession began with tying cargo down with ropes, this has changed with the introduction of containerization. Today, almost all non-bulk cargo is carried in intermodal containers aboard container ships. These containers arrive at a port either by truck, train, or vessel, and are neatly stacked in the storage area. Once it is time for them to be loaded onto a ship, they are transferred via crane.
The primary tasks and duties of a modern longshoreman include:
- Loading and unloading cargo between ships and docks, including everything from consumer goods to raw materials.
- Operating heavy machinery like cranes, forklifts, and top handlers to move cargo containers and other heavy items.
- Checking cargo to ensure it matches shipping manifests and inspecting for damaged goods.
- Securing cargo aboard ships to prevent shifting during transit, which can involve lashing and unlashing containers.
- Assembling cargo by grouping items to be loaded onto vessels according to shipping schedules and destinations.
- Documenting the movement and condition of cargo, using data entry or updating digital tracking systems.
- Maintaining equipment by performing regular checks and minor maintenance to ensure it's in working condition.
- Handling hazardous materials, ensuring they're safely and properly stored according to regulations.
- Coordinating/communicating with crews, supervisors, and ground personnel to ensure efficient and safe operations.
Longshoremen & the LHWCA
Unlike other offshore workers, maritime laws such as the Jones Act do not protect longshoremen because they do not work on open waters and do not meet the definition of a “seaman” as a result. Instead, longshoremen receive protection from the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA). Per the Department of Labor, the LHWCA provides "employment-injury and occupational disease protection to approximately 500,000 workers who are injured or contract occupational diseases occurring on the navigable waters of the United States or in adjoining areas."
The following benefits are provided to longshoremen under the LHWCA:
- Medical Benefits: Full medical coverage for treatment of injuries sustained or diseases contracted due to employment. This includes doctor visits, surgeries, rehabilitation, and prescriptions.
- Disability Benefits: Workers with disabilities may be entitled to a percentage of their average weekly wages, the duration and amount of which will be determined based on the extent of disability and how long it is expected to last.
- Rehabilitation Services: Vocational rehabilitation assistance may be provided under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act to help the injured worker return to suitable employment.
- Death Benefits: If a maritime worker dies due to a work-related injury or illness, the LHWCA provides benefits to eligible survivors. This typically includes a percentage of the worker's average weekly wage and funeral expenses.
- Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA): Disabled workers and eligible survivors receiving death benefits may get annual cost of living adjustments under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act.
- Compensation for Hearing Loss: The LHWCA provides compensation for work-related hearing loss, with the amount determined based on audiometric testing and specific guidelines.