Our people's stories

Chris van Dillen
Sandfill master

Chris van Dillen belongs to the international pool of sandfill masters. That means playing with sand and machines, as he calls it, and always being out in the fresh air: as far as Chris is concerned, sandfill master is the best job in the world. Basically Chris ended up in the sandfill business by chance. There are no qualifications for this job, you get into it by chance and learn the tricks of the trade from experienced colleagues.

“As a sandfill master I head up a number of onshore activities on dredging projects. The vessel pumps sand or sludge to the shore, where the sandfill crew distribute the material using shovels, backhoes and bulldozers. The sandfill crew’s job is to make sure that the ship is never kept waiting, that the pipelines are ready, that the material is received and ends up in the right place. We install boundaries around the dumpsite, for example by building dikes, and make sure that the sand trap is working properly. A sand trap is a steel construction, generally positioned at the lowest point of a dumpsite, that allows excess water to drain away while ensuring that the material stays behind at the dumpsite. The size of the apertures in the sand trap can be adjusted to regulate how fast the water drains away.

 

Sandfill master is the best job in the world.

There are two types of dumpsite and the type has a major bearing on what kind of work needs carrying out. At an open dumpsite, for example for a beach replenishment, the water drains away of its own accord. At a closed dumpsite we install boundaries around the area. The material is supplied through a pipeline by trailing suction hopper dredgers or cutter suction dredgers. The type of vessel dictates the flow of work on the dumpsite: hoppers deliver a large load all at once that has to be distributed swiftly, while cutters produce a steadier flow. As the supply of sludge increases the engineers in the sandfill crew reposition and extend the pipeline, using cranes and shovels to attach new pipes to the line. The purpose of a dumpsite may also vary: on some projects the dumpsite is intended for land reclamation, while the main objective of other projects is to deepen a port or access channel and the dredged material has no immediate function. The type of dredged material – sand or clay – also has a great impact on our work. Sand that is not too fine-grained is easier to spread over a dumpsite than clay, in which equipment is more likely to slip or get stuck. And yes, that can leave you standing up to your knees in slush. My idea of an ideal dumpsite is a large-scale project where we can handle large production volumes and have enough advanced and robust equipment. Then I’m in my element!

My work also involves filling in daily report sheets, placing orders and recording fuel consumption and equipment malfunctions. But I like being outside best. The great thing about my work is the variety. In the Middle East or Africa you can be working at temperatures of over 50 degrees centigrade, while on the next project it might be minus 15, like in St. Petersburg. And I’ve already seen a lot of the world. It’s wonderful to work on projects that literally change the way the world looks, such as Maasvlakte 2. You can even see that on Google Earth!”

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