Safety at sea applies to all vessels and personnel working in the maritime sector. It is also the highest priority during any dredging operation.

Safety on dredging vessels and during dredging operations embraces a comprehensive approach towards ensuring the safety and health of personnel, the safety of the ships and the quality of the environment.
To achieve this, international dredging contractors strive to comply with applicable international and national maritime regulations. Contractors also participate in regular audits conducted by trained company employees, as well as external audits by certifying authorities throughout the world.

Safety standards

Safety standards are applied during every phase of a dredging project, paying close attention to the safety of ships, crews and all other personnel as well as to marine life. Ships, operations and offices must comply with the strictest of international standards regarding Quality, Health, Safety and Environment (QHSE).
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO), for instance, develops standards according to the principles of voluntary, industry-wide consensus. International Safety Management (ISM) Code also created guidelines. A few examples include:

  • ISO 9001:2008 for the execution of quality assurance;
  • ISO 14001:2004 for the execution of environmental protection;
  • SCC and OHSAS 18001:2007 for the execution of occupational health and safety;
  • ISM for the execution of safety at sea and marine-environmental protection;
  • ISPS for the execution of security on vessels.

International Maritime Organization (IMO)

In 1959 the International Maritime Organization (IMO) was established and immediately adopted a new version of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). Thereafter the IMO developed and adopted:

  • international collision regulations;
  • global standards for seafarers (COLREG);
  • international conventions and codes relating to search and rescue;
  • the facilitation of international maritime traffic and load lines;
  • the carriage of dangerous goods and tonnage measurement.

Another convention under the IMO is MARPOL 73/78, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. “MARPOL 73/78” is an abbreviation for marine pollution and 73/78 for the years 1973 and 1978.) MARPOL is the main international convention covering prevention of pollution of the marine environment by ships from routine operations or accidental causes and has been updated by several amendments over the course of time.
Establishing regulations of these various safety standards, however, does not necessarily mean the regulations are easily implemented.

Customised company safety programmes

Safety in dredging operations has taken on a new urgency in the last few decades. While government regulations are far-reaching, implementation of safety regulations is dependent on the individual companies. It demands the concerted efforts of dredging contractors to improve their own standards.
The reduction of injury and incidents during dredging operations has become a clear priority amongst the major dredging companies. Seeking to prevent industrial accidents and personal tragedies, contractors have developed their own customised safety programmes.
Simply abiding by the recognised standard international codes and establishing systems for avoiding unnecessary risk and limiting the number of injuries and incidents is not enough. To make safety a reality, company programmes require a sincere commitment from management and staff. They require a commitment to investments in training and workshops in order to bring complete awareness to both management and the work floor.
While safety regulations and legislation are clear, raising awareness and developing a culture of safety amongst personnel demands extra efforts.

Safety culture

The development of a pro-active ‘safety culture’ must involve each and every employee, from top management to workers, on board ships and on shore. Each and every employee must feel that they are part of a team and that they need to feel responsible for safety and performance and to take actions that demonstrate this.
To have a pervasive safety culture means that all personnel must feel they can have direct access to the highest levels of management.
Generally speaking, safety policies are divided into four categories:

  • health and human resources,
  • quality assessment,
  • environment,
  • security of vessels.

The overall strategy of dredging industry is to reduce lost-time incidents, to limit the frequency of accidents, to ensure a more efficient operation and, most importantly, to lower risks for employees.

Safety training, coaching and leadership
Major dredging companies have instituted programmes for all personnel including management. These can take the form of seminars and workshops as well as “Toolbox talks” which are meetings or presentations organised on the job, prior to the start of the job, that is, close to the toolbox.
Issues that may arise regularly are discussions on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), working with pipelines, with chemicals, exposure to hazardous materials, lifeboat training exercises, care at excavation sites, mooring lines and the correct procedures for working with heavy machinery.

Safety for all

As with many major infrastructure projects, jobs are often undertaken with many subcontractors with their specialised areas of expertise. Ensuring that all personnel working on a job, from both the contractor and subcontractors, are well trained has become a crucial challenge in the safe execution of a dredging project.
To maintain and continually improve levels of quality assurance, safety, health and environment, the major dredging companies have implemented training programmes aimed at teamwork and communication.
For companies working all over the world, this also means the need to develop cross-cultural communication skills. Not only language proficiency but also cultural norms may need to be addressed to ensure that all workers on all levels are aware of how to avoid risky situations and how to protect themselves and their co-workers.


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