Dredger Incidents, Injuries, and Your Rights

by | Aug 15, 2023 | Maritime Accident, Maritime Injury, Maritime Law, Offshore Accident, The Jones Act

Dredgers play a vital role in maintaining navigable waterways, expanding ports, and reclaiming land from the sea. These heavy-duty vessels are equipped with powerful machinery designed to remove sediment, silt, and debris from the bottom of water bodies, ensuring safe navigation for ships and promoting economic development. However, the very nature of their operations exposes workers to various risks, often resulting in dredger incidents and injuries.

In the below article, the maritime offshore injury lawyers at Kherkher Garcia, LLP delve into the world of dredger incidents and injuries, shedding light on the challenges faced by maritime workers and the measures in place to enhance safety.

Types of Dredgers

There are many different types of dredgers, but they can be broadly classified into two main categories: mechanical and hydraulic.

  • Mechanical: Mechanical dredgers use a variety of mechanisms to scoop up and remove sediment from the seabed. Some common types of mechanical dredgers include:
    • Bucket dredgers: These dredgers use a rotating ladder of buckets to scoop up sediment.
    • Grab dredgers: These dredgers use a clamshell bucket to scoop up sediment.
    • Backhoe dredgers: These dredgers use a backhoe-like mechanism to scoop up sediment.
    • Dipper dredgers: These dredgers use a dipper-like mechanism to scoop up sediment.
  • Hydraulic: Hydraulic dredgers use a high-pressure water jet to loosen and transport sediment. Some common types of hydraulic dredgers include:
    • Cutter suction dredgers: These dredgers use a rotating cutter head to loosen sediment, which is then sucked up by a suction pipe.
    • Trailing suction hopper dredgers: These dredgers trail a suction pipe behind them to suck up sediment. The sediment is then deposited in a hopper on the dredger.
    • Airlift dredgers: These dredgers use a high-pressure air jet to lift sediment to the surface.

The type of dredger that is used for a particular project will depend on a number of factors, including the type of sediment that needs to be removed, the depth of the water, and the environmental conditions.

Causes of Dredger Incidents

Dredging operations involve complex machinery, high-pressure water jets, and the movement of large volumes of sediment. These factors combine to create a high-risk environment for maritime workers. Dredger incidents can be categorized into three main areas: equipment-related incidents, environmental hazards, and human factors.

Equipment-Related Incidents

Dredgers are equipped with powerful pumps, excavators, and pipelines that facilitate the removal of sediment. These components, while essential, pose significant risks to workers. Equipment malfunctions, structural failures, and mechanical errors can lead to accidents, including:

  • Trapped limbs
  • Falls from height
  • Crush injuries
  • Drowning

Regular maintenance, stringent quality control, and advanced monitoring systems are essential to prevent these incidents.

Environmental Hazards

Dredging often occurs in challenging environments, including shallow waters, turbulent seas, and confined spaces. The proximity to these environmental hazards increases the likelihood of accidents. Dredgers are vulnerable to:

  • Colliding with other vessels
  • Running aground
  • Capsizing due to unexpected shifts in water currents

Adverse weather conditions further exacerbate these risks, requiring constant vigilance and skilled navigation.

Human Factors

Human error remains a significant contributor to dredger incidents and injuries. Some of the human errors that often lead to injuries include:

  • Long working hours
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of proper training
  • Miscommunication
  • Inadequate maintenance
  • Lack of personal protective equipment (PPE)

Fatigue can impair crew members’ judgment and reaction times, leading to mistakes that endanger lives. Miscommunication among team members can result in improper procedures, improper equipment handling, and even collisions with other vessels. Inadequate maintenance, training, or PPE can lead to a host of accidents and injuries that are largely preventable.

Common Injuries in Dredger Work

Working on dredgers exposes maritime workers to a range of risks, resulting in various types of injuries. Some of the common injuries in this line of work include:

Crush Injuries

Dredgers are equipped with heavy machinery, such as excavators and pumps, which can cause crush injuries if not handled properly. Workers can get caught between moving parts or heavy equipment, leading to fractures, amputations, or even fatalities.


Working on a dredger involves navigating slippery and uneven surfaces. Crew members are at risk of slipping and falling on wet decks, stairs, and catwalks. Falls from height, such as from elevated platforms or the top of the dredger, can result in serious injuries like broken bones, head injuries, and spinal damage.

Strains and Sprains

Dredging work often requires physical exertion, including lifting heavy objects, manipulating equipment controls, and working in awkward positions. These activities can lead to strains, sprains, and muscle injuries, especially when proper lifting techniques are not followed.


Given the maritime nature of dredging operations, there is a constant risk of workers falling into the water due to equipment malfunctions, slippery surfaces, or unforeseen accidents. Drowning is a significant concern, especially when workers are not equipped with proper flotation devices or swift rescue measures.


The movement of dredging equipment and machinery poses a risk of workers getting trapped in confined spaces or machinery components. Entrapment incidents can lead to serious injuries or fatalities if not addressed promptly.

Cuts and Abrasions

Dredgers involve the use of sharp tools, equipment with moving parts, and abrasive surfaces. Workers can sustain cuts, lacerations, and abrasions while performing tasks like maintenance, repairs, and equipment operation.

Chemical Exposure

Dredging operations often involve the use of chemicals, such as lubricants, fuels, and cleaning agents. Improper handling or accidental spills can result in chemical exposure, leading to skin irritations, respiratory problems, or even long-term health issues.


Dredgers rely on electrical systems for various functions. Faulty wiring, exposed electrical components, or improper grounding can lead to electrical shocks or electrocution.

Hearing Loss

The noise generated by the powerful engines, pumps, and other machinery on dredgers can cause long-term hearing damage if workers are not provided with proper hearing protection.

Hypothermia and Heat Stress

Depending on the region and the time of year, workers on dredgers can be exposed to extreme weather conditions. In colder environments, hypothermia can occur, while in hot climates, heat stress and heat-related illnesses can be a concern if proper measures are not taken to mitigate these risks.

Impact Injuries

Moving equipment and machinery can swing unexpectedly, potentially hitting workers and causing impact injuries. Workers can also collide with stationary objects or other crew members, resulting in bruises, cuts, and other injuries.

Eye Injuries

Dust, debris, and particles generated during dredging can pose a risk to workers’ eyes. Without proper eye protection, these particles can cause eye irritation, corneal abrasions, or more severe injuries.

Repetitive Strain Injuries

The repetitive nature of certain tasks, such as operating controls or performing maintenance, can lead to repetitive strain injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.

Psychological Impact

The challenging working conditions, isolation at sea, and the potential for accidents can lead to psychological stress, anxiety, and depression among dredger workers.

It is important for dredging companies to prioritize worker safety by implementing comprehensive training, adhering to safety protocols, providing appropriate personal protective equipment, and fostering a culture of open communication and reporting.

Dredger Incident Prevention and Safety Measures

As the maritime industry evolves, so do safety measures to mitigate the risks associated with dredging operations. Several key strategies are important to ensure the wellbeing of workers and the successful completion of projects:

Comprehensive Training

Effective training is the cornerstone of incident prevention. Crew members must undergo thorough training in operating complex machinery, understanding navigation protocols, and responding to emergencies. Regular refresher courses keep workers up-to-date with the latest safety protocols and practices.

Technological Advancements

In recent years, technological advancements have revolutionized the maritime industry. Dredgers are now equipped with sophisticated monitoring systems that provide real-time data on equipment performance, environmental conditions, and vessel stability. These systems enable crews to make informed decisions and take preventive actions before accidents occur.

Safety Culture

Fostering a strong safety culture is essential to reducing dredger incidents. When safety is prioritized from top management down to the crew members, it becomes ingrained in daily operations. Open communication channels, reporting mechanisms for near-miss incidents, and a zero-tolerance policy for risky behavior all contribute to building a safer working environment.

Regular Maintenance and Inspection

Routine maintenance and rigorous inspections of dredging equipment are crucial to preventing malfunctions and breakdowns. Regular checks ensure that all machinery is in optimal working condition, reducing the risk of accidents caused by equipment failures.

Emergency Preparedness

No matter how comprehensive the preventive measures, emergencies can still arise. Adequate emergency response plans, including drills and training exercises, equip crew members with the skills needed to respond swiftly and effectively in critical situations.

Getting Help after a Dredger Incident

Dredgers are essential tools for maintaining navigable waterways and supporting economic development through land reclamation. However, their operations come with inherent risks that can lead to incidents and injuries. Maritime workers in this line of work should know that they have rights under maritime law if an injury occurs. Workers may be entitled to benefits or compensation.

If you work on a dredger and have suffered an injury, there is no time to lose in exploring your rights and options. Contact Kherkher Garcia to find out how maritime law could protect you and provide you with much-needed compensation for your injuries. You may qualify for maintenance and cure benefits, or compensation under the Jones Act. We can help you find out.

Get started by calling us at 713-333-1030 for a free consultation. You can also reach out to us online anytime by completing our online form.

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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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