Private military contractors typically work either six or seven days per week for at least twelve hours per day. In zones of special danger, such as in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, workers are not permitted to leave the base for any reason other than work. Therefore, these workers are afforded coverage under the workers’ compensation program, the Defense Base Act, 24 hours per day. This means that private military contractors are entitled to compensation and medical benefits for nearly all injuries.
Zone of Special Danger
Specifically, the legal doctrine of “Zone of Special Danger” is applicable in injury cases under the Defense Base Act (DBA). This Act provides workers’ compensation benefits for military contractors working under U.S. Government contracts. For example, the private military contractors working for companies such as Triple Canopy, SOC, Academi, KBR, DynCorp, Worldwide language Resources and Fluor, who provide security and logistics support to United States bases and forward operating bases in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.
Defense Base Act vs. State Workers’ Compensation Programs
Pursuant to normal state workers’ compensation laws in the United States, monetary and medical benefits under such workers’ compensation plans are not available to employees whose injuries occur “outside the scope” of employment. Pursuant to the Zone of Special Danger, this is not the case and almost all injuries are considered work-related. When private military contractors (PMCs) work under contract in remote overseas places, in zones of hostility, such as in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia, recreational activities are considered to be “part of the job.”
Examples of Injuries Covered Pursuant to DBA and Zone of Special Danger Doctrine
It is central to understand that the doctrine of Zone of Special Danger applies when the conditions of employment increase the risk of serious injuries to employees. In the DBA world, the Zone of Special Danger is so wide-ranging, that it covers nearly all injuries, such as:
- Working out at a gym on base.
- Shoulder injuries while doing military presses.
- Playing basketball.
- Doing pushups.
- Riding a bicycle for exercise or recreation on a base.
- Falling in a shower.
- Falling down a staircase.
- Slipping in a cafeteria or DFAC.
- Wresting with another contractor.
- Carelessly driving a vehicle.
The doctrine of “Zone of Special Danger” in the Defense Base Act world is very expansive. The reason is because work at U.S. bases in zones of war or hostility, such as at Bagram Airfield or the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, are extremely tough and under dangerous conditions, and the contractors oftentimes cannot leave a base in a war zone. There is genuinely no way to leave the area to escape the dangers of working in such environments. As such, the entire area where contractors work is within a zone of special danger.