Dealing with on-the-job injuries and lost work days can be difficult for both the employees who have been injured and their employers. Yet, when employees are injured while working overseas, the surrounding issues can be even more challenging.
Making sure civilian workers and their families receive insurance benefits in the event of an injury, or even death, while employed overseas is an important part of the work we’re doing at the department’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs. OWCP’s Division of Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation administers the Defense Base Act, which requires that workers’ compensation insurance and medical benefits be provided to all eligible civilian workers of private employers outside the U.S. These workers may be stationed at U.S. military bases or under contract with the U.S. government. For example, the DBA covers workers supporting the mission in Afghanistan, as well as those working for employers with United States Agency for International Development contracts assisting in projects around the world. The act requires the contractor employers to provide insurance for their workers, regardless of nationality, before overseas operations commence.
But we can only ensure civilian workers get DBA benefits if the contracting officers we work with include DBA insurance in all U.S. service contracts that are awarded to private employers overseas. Prior to 2003, the small number of private employers under contract with the U.S. overseas, as well as the contracting officers administering the DBA, were familiar with these requirements. With an increase in U.S. operations in Southwest Asia and other parts of the world, many new employers and contracting officers are not aware of the DBA requirements, resulting in omissions and unfavorable government audit reports. To help close the education gap regarding the act’s key provisions, we held our first virtual workshop last week.
The 3-hour event attracted nearly 100 contracting officers from the departments of Defense and State, as well as 20 in-person participants at Labor Department headquarters. Officers stationed as far away as South Korea, Switzerland, Kyrgyzstan and the Ukraine logged in to ask questions such as which workers must be insured; how DBA insurance coverage protects workers in the event of injuries and deaths arising out of employment overseas; how such insurance also protects private contractor employers from lawsuits and personal liability for compensation; and when the DBA insurance requirement must be included in a government contract. We also shared how contractors can procure this type of insurance, and underscored best practices as well as cost-effective measures in administering contracts.
Officials from the Department of Defense, DOD’s Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Labor Department’s Office of Solicitor also participated in the workshop, which was the product of an interagency roundtable dedicated to improving the Defense Base Act program.
Through this kind of collaboration, we will better provide a measure of security for civilian workers supporting U.S. operations overseas. Because all workers, regardless of location, should receive the benefits they are entitled to when they are injured on the job.
Gary Steinberg is the acting director of the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, and Miranda Chiu is the director of OWCP’s Division of Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation.