Hopper Dredge Safety: Building Louisiana Sand Berms to Block the BP Oil Spill is Dangerous Work

Dredging in Louisiana has officially commenced, to create sand berms that will inhibit the spreading of oil from the Gulf to the shores and marshlands in the state. This massive project will place numerous individuals in jobs on dredging vessels, who will be tasked with removing the sand, storing it, and replacing it in areas where it is considered advantageous for stopping the oil.
Vessels equipped for this activity, namely the “hopper dredge,” are extremely powerful machines. In addition to their capacity to transport massive quantities of sand, they can cause harm to their operators, and other individuals who are situated in waterways near the vessel. The Army Corps of Engineer’s list of hazards related to the hopper dredge is significant, describing how the dredge’s wake could capsize smaller boats, and how the water pressure the dredge emits could force a person underwater, causing severe injury or death.
In light of the safety concerns surrounding these dredges, many standard procedures are required of the companies who run these vessels to ensure, if nothing else, the workers’ well being. The Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA)provides a meticulous checklist for one of the dredge vessels that is intended to make dredge operations foolproof in terms of safety. Among the inspections, logs and general activities that are detailed are general safety procedures, such as what to do in case of a medical emergency, and maintaining an appropriate number of personal flotation devices (PFD’s) on board.
Despite the existence of checklists, there is never a complete assurance that a dredge operation will be in total compliance with safety requirements. A lack, or non-usage, of PFD’s can be particularly hazardous for workers. Individuals who are employed in the current dredge operations should keep their eyes open for instances where a dredge may not be following safety guidelines. In the event of an accident that could have been prevented by adherence to safety regulations, the operating company could be held liable for the mishap. The current atmosphere surrounding the oil spill in Louisiana is extremely frenetic, but this does not mean that dredge operations should cut corners for the sake of productivity when safety is concerned.

Additional Resources:

U.S. Department of the Interior – Bureau of Reclamation Requirements For Watercraft & Dredging Safety
U.S. Department of Labor- Mine Safety & Health Administration: Sand Dredge Operator Safety
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Safety Tips Around Dredges

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