Dredgers are used to collect sediment from under the water, in a river, narrow pass, or shallow coastal area, to make areas more navigable for larger ships. They also dump material in other areas. These self-sufficient vessels carry a risk of accidents because heavy machinery, cranes, buckets, and grabbers are used. Many maritime workers have been injured or killed in dredge accidents.
The major types include vacuum, bucket, clamshell, backhoe/dipper type, water injection, and pneumatic dredgers. There are varieties used in fishing as well to harvest shellfish. Dredgers are considered important for keeping ship channels navigable and deep enough for ships to pass. The hazards of working on them include:
- Objects held by a clamshell grabber can fall, injuring or killing a worker; amputations in such cases are not unheard of.
- Failed cranes, which can cause the structure or its load to fall and injure/kill workers.
- Falls from an elevation or into the water, where one can drown if they are not wearing a personal floatation device.
- Capsizing of vessels, which can kill workers if trapped in spaces within, such as underneath a gangway
- A lack of training or safety precautions, which puts crew members at risk.
- Long working hours, fatigue, and difficult working conditions.
- Collisions with other ships or structures while in operation.
Accident-related injuries often involve the shoulder and back. Seamen injured on dredgers have needed amputations. Crush injuries are common as are eye injuries, hernias, and trauma to the head, hips, hand/wrist, and legs. It’s not uncommon for one who sustained a dredger injury to experience post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dredging vessels don’t only pose hazards to those working onboard. In 2015, the U.S. Coast Guard issued a safety alert for commercial and recreational boaters near where dredging operations are being conducted. It addressed concerns with improperly marked equipment such as pipelines and other components.
Dredging Accidents Are Commonplace
DredgingToday.com publishes reports on incidents, such as a fatal accident involving the Arco Avon in August 2015. While loading sand off the coast of Great Yarmouth, UK, an engine room fire broke out. An engineer was killed when trying to repair a fuel pipe, and the fuel ignited. The individual did not inform other personnel of his decision, and several other safety issues were identified, including inadequate information on personal protection devices and guidance not stating that sparks from fixed/portable angle grinders were a hazard. This incident is one of many that exemplifies the need for proper safety regulations and procedures.
Under the law, employers are required to provide workers with adequate training and information on safety procedures. If they haven’t, or are in some way negligent, leading up to an injury or death, they may be responsible for compensating victims and their families to cover lost wages and medical costs. Even though dredgers are risky environments, equipment can be operated safely. It’s often possible to prevent accidents, but they can still occur. To reduce the risk, equipment should be inspected and maintained, repaired when necessary, and upgraded when possible.