There are many risks and hazards to those who work in the maritime industry. To help mitigate risks and provide protection for workers, the United States has developed a series of maritime laws. One of those laws is the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, or OCSLA. The OCSLA is one of the lesser-known maritime laws, but is just as relevant as the Jones Act or the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA).

Below, the offshore injury attorneys at Kherkher Garcia, LLP provide an overview of the OCSLA for maritime workers and their families.

What is the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act?

The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) is a United States federal law enacted in 1953 that governs the exploration, development, and management of natural resources on the outer continental shelf (OCS). The OCS refers to the submerged lands located beyond state coastal waters and extends from the seaward boundary of state jurisdiction to the outer edge of the continental shelf.

Here is an overview of the key aspects and provisions of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act:

Jurisdiction and Leasing Authority

The OCSLA grants the federal government jurisdiction and control over the outer continental shelf. This includes the authority to lease and regulate the exploration and development of its natural resources. The Secretary of the Interior is responsible for overseeing these activities.

Leasing System

The OCSLA establishes a leasing system through which interested parties can obtain leases for the exploration and production of oil, gas, and other mineral resources on the outer continental shelf. The leasing process involves competitive bidding and ensures fair and equitable access to the resources while maximizing economic return for the nation.

Revenue Sharing

The act includes provisions for revenue sharing between the federal government and coastal states. A percentage of the revenues generated from offshore leases and production activities on the outer continental shelf is distributed to the affected states. The revenue supports various purposes such as environmental conservation, infrastructure development, and coastal zone management.

Environmental Protection

The OCSLA recognizes the importance of environmental protection and mandates that all exploration and production activities on the outer continental shelf be conducted in a manner that minimizes environmental harm. It authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to establish regulations and standards to protect the marine environment, wildlife, and natural resources, and to enforce compliance.

Safety and Accident Prevention

The OCSLA imposes safety regulations and requirements to protect human life, property, and the environment during offshore operations. It establishes the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). The BSEE enforces safety standards, conducts inspections, and responds to accidents or incidents on the outer continental shelf.

Research and Studies

The OCSLA promotes scientific research and studies related to the outer continental shelf. It authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to collect geological, geophysical, and other data, conduct studies, and collaborate with other agencies and institutions to enhance knowledge about the OCS resources, environmental conditions, and potential hazards.

Cooperative Federalism

The OCSLA recognizes the importance of cooperation between the federal government and coastal states in the management of the outer continental shelf. It encourages collaboration and coordination to ensure the responsible development of resources while considering the interests and concerns of the states.

The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act provides the legal framework for the management, leasing, and regulation of natural resources on the outer continental shelf. It balances the goals of resource development, environmental protection, and revenue sharing while promoting safety and scientific research. The act has facilitated the exploration and production of energy resources, such as oil and gas, while also incorporating measures to mitigate environmental impacts and ensure the sustainable use of the outer continental shelf.

What Sort of Accidents are Covered by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act?

The OCSLA primarily focuses on the jurisdiction and management of submerged lands and the exploration and development of their resources. While the OCSLA does not specifically address maritime accidents, it does establish the legal framework for addressing certain incidents and their aftermaths that may occur on the continental shelf. Here are some examples:

Oil Spills

In the event of an oil spill or pollution incident resulting from offshore drilling or exploration activities on the continental shelf, the OCSLA empowers the Secretary of the Interior to take actions to prevent and mitigate environmental damage. The act also establishes liability and compensation mechanisms to address the costs of cleanup and restoration efforts.

Safety and Accident Prevention

The OCSLA grants the federal government regulatory authority over offshore exploration and production activities, including safety regulations. It ensures that companies operating on the continental shelf adhere to certain standards and practices to prevent accidents, such as blowouts, fires, or other incidents that may pose risks to human life, the environment, or property.

Salvage Operations

The OCSLA may come into play during salvage operations following a maritime accident on the continental shelf. It provides a legal framework for the removal, recovery, or disposal of sunken vessels or other hazardous materials that may pose a threat to navigation, the marine environment, or natural resources.

It’s important to note that while the OCSLA establishes the federal government’s jurisdiction and regulatory authority over the continental shelf, other laws and regulations may also apply to maritime accidents depending on the specific circumstances. For example, the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 provide additional provisions and requirements for responding to oil spills and other forms of pollution in U.S. waters.

What Sort of Maritime Injuries are Covered by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act?

The OCSLA covers a wide range of injuries that occur on the outer continental shelf. These injuries can include:

  • Accidents: Injuries that occur as a result of accidents, such as falls, explosions, or fires.
  • Occupational Diseases: Diseases that are caused by the nature of the work, such as lung disease from exposure to asbestos or oil.
  • Wrongful Death: The death of an employee as a result of an injury that is covered by the OCSLA.

To be covered by the OCSLA, the injury must occur while the employee is working on the outer continental shelf. The outer continental shelf is defined as all submerged lands that are seaward of state waters and within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The EEZ is a 200-mile offshore area that is under U.S. jurisdiction.

Examples of Common Injuries that Occur on the Outer Continental Shelf

Working on the outer continental shelf involves various risks and hazards due to the nature of offshore operations. Some common injuries that can occur on the OCS include:


Slippery surfaces, uneven walkways, and working at heights increase the risk of falls on offshore platforms. Workers can sustain injuries such as fractures, sprains, and head injuries from falls.

Strains and Sprains

The physically demanding nature of offshore work, including lifting heavy equipment, can lead to strains and sprains in the muscles and joints. Improper lifting techniques and repetitive motions can contribute to these injuries.

Machinery Accidents

Offshore platforms utilize complex machinery and equipment. Accidents involving machinery, such as conveyor belts, cranes, or drilling equipment, can result in severe injuries. This includes crush injuries, amputations, or traumatic limb injuries.

Fires and Explosions

Oil and gas operations on the OCS involve flammable substances, which can lead to fires or explosions if safety precautions are not followed. These incidents can cause burns, respiratory injuries, and other serious consequences.

Electrical Shocks

Electrical systems are prevalent on offshore platforms, and electrical shocks can occur due to faulty wiring, equipment malfunction, or human error. Electric shocks can cause severe burns, cardiac issues, and other injuries.

Chemical Exposure

Workers on the OCS may be exposed to hazardous chemicals during drilling, production, or maintenance activities. Chemical exposure can cause respiratory problems, skin irritation, chemical burns, and other health complications.


Offshore work involves exposure to open water, and there is a risk of drowning or water-related incidents. This risk is particularly high during transportation between the shore and offshore facilities. It is also higher in emergency situations such as helicopter crashes or vessel accidents.

Musculoskeletal Injuries

The physical demands of offshore work can contribute to musculoskeletal injuries, such as back injuries, hernias, or joint disorders. This is due to repetitive movements, heavy lifting, and awkward postures.

Weather-Related Injuries

Adverse weather conditions, including storms, hurricanes, or high winds, can pose risks to offshore workers. Falling objects, slipping on wet surfaces, or being struck by flying debris are potential hazards during severe weather events.

Psychological Stress

The isolation, challenging work environment, and extended periods away from family and friends can result in psychological stress. Mental health issues are not uncommon among offshore workers.

It is important to note that safety protocols, training programs, and regulations are in place to minimize these risks and ensure the safety of workers on the outer continental shelf. Employers are responsible for implementing safety measures and providing proper training to mitigate these potential injuries.

Compensation Available Under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act

Employers are responsible for providing a safe working environment. That includes training, supervision, and providing appropriate safety gear. When employers fail these responsibilities, they can be held liable for injuries and losses that result. If you are injured while working on the outer continental shelf, you may be entitled to benefits under the OCSLA. These benefits can include:

  • Medical Expenses: Coverage for all reasonable and necessary medical expenses resulting from the injury.
  • Lost Wages: Compensation for lost wages while you are unable to work due to the injury.
  • Permanent Disability: A lump-sum payment for permanent injuries that prevent you from returning to work.

If you have been injured while working on the outer continental shelf, you should contact an experienced maritime attorney to discuss your legal options. An attorney can help you determine if you are entitled to benefits under the OCSLA and can represent you in a claim for compensation.

Things to Know about Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act Claims

Here are some additional things to keep in mind about OCSLA claims:

  • Time Limits: There are strict time limits for filing OCSLA claims. If you miss the deadline, you may be unable to recover any compensation.
  • Evidence: It is important to gather as much evidence as possible to support your claim. This could include medical records, witness statements, and photographs of the accident scene.
  • Negotiation: In many cases, OCSLA claims can be resolved through negotiation with the employer’s insurance company. However, if negotiations are unsuccessful, you may need to file a lawsuit.

If you have been injured while working on the outer continental shelf, it is important to seek legal advice as soon as possible. A maritime injury attorney can help you understand your rights and options, and can represent you in a claim for compensation.

Contact an Offshore Injury Attorney to Find Out More

If you have questions about the OCSLA, the Jones Act, the LHWCA or other maritime laws, Kherkher Garcia can help. Our offshore injury attorneys have more than 30 years of experience helping maritime workers and their families pursue compensation.

To find out more, contact us by calling 713-333-1030, or you can contact us online.



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Steve Kherkher

Steve Kherkher

Founding Partner and Trial Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Injury Trial Lawyer and Founding Firm Partner Steve Kherkher. Steve has been a practicing injury lawyer for more than 30 years. He has won $300 Million+ in Settlements and Verdicts for his clients. He is a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom and the trial lawyer you want on your side if you or a loved one have been catastrophically injured.

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