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Is Dredging Safe?

Dredges are a type of workboat specialized in excavating material from the bottom of riverbeds, lakes, and coasts. The material dredges dig out can be valuable minerals, gravel, sand, or typical dirt. Regardless of which sediment is unearthed, the process must be done right, and that includes considering important safety concerns. While dredges have the potential to put an environment at risk, they're also used for ecologically beneficial purposes like removing contaminated waste. This process can be safe, and at United Dredging, we know how to make it so.

Dredges are a type of workboat specialized in excavating material from the bottom of riverbeds, lakes, and coasts. The material dredges dig out can be valuable minerals, gravel, sand, or typical dirt. Regardless of which sediment is unearthed, the process must be done right, and that includes considering important safety concerns. While dredges have the potential to put an environment at risk, they're also used for ecologically beneficial purposes like removing contaminated waste. This process can be safe, and at United Dredging, we know how to make it so.

Top 5 Questions Answered

#1 What Are Common Dangers Associated With Dredging?

Working on a dredge can be dangerous. Dredgers carry with them an array of hazards that can harm the people working there. Some hazards are common among all dredges, though poorly regulated dredges are particularly dangerous. The risks involved can potentially lead to harm in a few ways.

Wires and Shocking Cables

Dredges have large cables that require occasional maintenance to guarantee they're not dangerous to be around. Some manner of cable connects most dredges to the shore, and this is usually high voltage. Cables can wear down and reveal frayed electric wires and machinery underneath.

Routing cables along a path that frequently scrapes against objects can tear insulation off. Submerging cables underwater also increases the risk of harm. Being around exposed electric wires carries a chance of electrocution: a risk heightened by the presence of water. And wire cables can become an issue of their own even without electricity.

On dredges, wire cables are used for hoisting objects, anchoring, and positioning equipment. If their covers come undone, they can create fishhooks that can cause mild hand injuries. Cables can produce harsher injuries if they're subject to high tension loads. Should the cable snap after being loaded with a high amount of tension, the wire can break and whip at its surroundings, becoming another hazard.


#2 How Dangerous Is Water on a Dredge?

The Depths Below

The surrounding water could be a substantial danger for workers. Water washing over dredge platforms or a change in the dredge's pitch can both increase the likelihood of slipping and tripping, especially in areas cold enough for snow and ice. Either mishap can lead to employees falling over and injuring themselves or falling off the dredge entirely. Drowning follows as a subsequent risk after and is a relatively common cause of death for dredge workers.

To protect against this, the company you hire must require that workers wear life jackets when crossing narrow, wet, or even guarded pathways and know how to apply guidelines that keep everyone safe.

Water Pumps

Accidents on dredges can spring from water pumps, too. Dredges have high-pressure pumps that can burst with columns of water if the pump cracks. Jets of water make the surrounding workplace slipperier than usual, leading to higher chances of workers slipping and falling overboard or into machines.

These jets can shoot out with enough force to knock an employee back. Other sources of water causing slips and falls come from swamping, which happens when water washes over a dredge platform. This can often be an unexpected danger that only experienced professionals know to look for.

#3 Are Fires a Risk on Dredges?

Flammable materials are another source of danger on dredges. Hydrogen sulfide is a compound often found on dredges, and its flammability poses a threat to safe work conditions. This compound, among other similarly flammable liquids and gases, should be monitored to ensure they're stored safely and that levels within a room don't exceed health limits.

Fires can originate from a couple of places other than hydrogen sulfide leaks. Hydraulic fluid leaking onto hot parts of an engine can combust into a fire, for example. Fires can start from electricity from cables or machinery touching flammable material or a build-up of oil in the engine room combusting into flames. Fortunately, a project is safe from fire when you work with professionals who know the potential risks and how to guard against them.

#4 What Are the Most Common Injuries in a Dredge Project?

Hand injuries are a perpetual threat while working on dredges. Dredge workers have a variety of gloves to choose from that can minimize the chance of hand injury and should use them as necessary. Working with machinery in general frequently carries a chance of injury. To mitigate that chance, workers should follow certain guidelines while handling machines and companies should enforce these regulations carefully.

Take Adequate Precautions

Underlined by the aforementioned dangers is the constant threat of poor working conditions. With adequate regulations, dredging can be a safe activity for workers, but problems tend to arise when regulations are disregarded, opening the door to accidents. Experienced managers are key to preventing workplace injuries or even fatalities while on a dredge. Routine safety examinations are essential in maintaining a safe workplace.

#5 How Does Dredging Affect the Environment?

Dredges can pose harm to the environment in a manner similar to how they prove dangerous to those employed on the dredge. While environmental work to displace contaminated material is important, it can potentially destabilize habitats and have lasting ramifications for nearby humans, as well. Together, workers can take some precautions to prevent harm to the environment and to themselves.

Suspending Sediment

Most bodies of water have a tendency to accumulate their most toxic substances at their beds. Certain species tend to thrive at the bottom of bodies of water, including benthic community members such as algae, seagrass, coral reefs, and mollusks. These species act as the foundation of marine food webs, providing food for turtles, dugongs, and fish. Their disappearance within an ecosystem can carry with it a string of ramifications down the line.

Unearthed Toxicity

Dredging can occasionally affect ecosystems in two other ways. One is through unearthing toxic elements stored along the substrate at the seabed. Toxic elements such as lead and other heavy metals are reintroduced into the water after its sediment is lifted. These materials can harm organisms nearby or seep into environments and cause harm to humans.

Seagrass and other marine fauna are particularly vulnerable to sediment excavation. Mineral excavation increases turbidity in soil. Higher turbidity makes it more difficult for marine fauna to absorb adequate amounts of light through photosynthesis and leads to fauna death. This makes managing turbidity significant for keeping marine fauna in healthy conditions.

Dredging Safely

The good news is that experience is the best way to protect the environment. When you work with experienced professionals, your project is in the hands of people who know the risks to the environment and exactly how to conduct each step of the project to prevent any harm to the ecosystem.


Safety is crucial in a dredge project, and that's why you always want to work with the best. Choose a contractor with experience and faithful dedication to the regulations and best practices that keep workers and the environment safe. Contact us at United Dredging today, where we have the skill and dedication you need to safely accomplish your project.


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