Silo Inspections Can Save Lives

Though It’s Important To Inspect Silos Frequently, In-House Silo Inspections Carry Too Many Limitations And Safety Concerns To Warrant Skipping A Professional Assessment.

By Dennis Blauser

In the summer of 2022, a grain silo in Iowa had a catastrophic failure. Two workers were unloading grain into a holding shed onsite at the time of the silo failure. Though one worker escaped, the second worker was found deceased after a 30-hour search. 

Tragedies like these highlight exactly why Marietta Silos does what we do. Regardless of the stored material, silo inspections protect lives by ensuring the continued structural integrity of silos. Yet to ensure continued safety, inspections, cleaning, and restoration or other maintenance services must be completed by a trained, professional silo engineer or technician.

Silo issues can endanger not only the quality of your stored materials. They also jeopardize the silo’s structural stability, neighboring equipment or structures, and your personnel or others nearby. Often, silo risks can be avoided through regular, professional silo inspections. In the past, silo engineers and construction experts recommended inspections every two to five years. 

Now, however, many insurers require annual or semi-annual silo inspections. Though it’s important to inspect silos frequently, in-house silo inspections carry too many limitations and safety concerns to warrant skipping a professional assessment.

The Importance of Third-Party Silo Inspections
In addition to problems located out of sight high up on the silo exterior or roof-top, professionals are also trained to look for internal problems. A professional silo inspection by a qualified third-party company includes a comprehensive examination of the structure to identify current and potential issues. After the inspection, the silo owner receives a detailed report of findings that outlines all discoveries in order of importance. This allows owners to identify essential repairs more easily. 

As experts, professional silo inspectors understand the unique properties of silos and contained materials. Additionally, professional inspectors should have a recognized safety history. They should also have the technical expertise and engineering experience required to carry out the inspection with the required confined space entry permits.

As important as it is to employ professionals for inspection, it is likewise important for silo cleanings. In March 2023, a Nebraska grain handler fatally suffocated after being engulfed in a corn silo. According to investigations conducted by the Department of Labor, the 34-year-old attempted to clean out the gain silo but did not have adequate safety training or safety gear. 

As a result, the company was cited for 16 violations, including two willful and 14 serious, and now faces more than $531,000 in penalties. Regardless of the silo type and material being stored, confined space safety regulations are in place for a reason – safety.

Professional Silo Inspection – Case Histories

Safety is paramount, particularly during confined space entry. At Marietta Silos, all our silo inspectors are trained on applicable OSHA and MSHA standards before arriving onsite and conducting interior silo inspections. During an interior silo inspection, a qualified, professional silo inspector can fit through an entry point on the silo as small as 18-in. square or 18-in. in diameter. 

A professional can enter the silo interior by a silo roof or wall frame to diagnose existing conditions. Once inside the silo, the engineer can use various industry-specific inspection methods to determine many attributes of the silo’s health. 

Following a silo inspection, Marietta Silos provides a detailed report with all the inspection findings prioritized in order of importance. The customer is then provided with a proposal to repair the operational or safety deficiencies discovered.

Several common issues cause concrete structure and concrete silo failure. These include foundation deterioration, roof collapse due to roof beam structural issues, improper material filling and unloading procedures in silos, silo wall delamination or deterioration, and silo discharge cone or bin floor issues. 

During the routine inspection of a jumpform cement storage silo, the Marietta Silos team uncovered partial delamination of the silo wall. Delamination occurs when the bond between the concrete and interior structural steel reinforcements is compromised. 

This weakens the silo’s structural capacity. When left unaddressed, delamination often leads to silo wall failure. Serious silo wall delamination cases can be repaired by removing the affected area and replacing the reinforcing steel. Once reinforcing steel is tied in, the wall is formed and poured with specific, non-shrink concrete per engineer specifications.

An experienced silo engineer performs an interior concrete silo inspection using proper safety equipment for confined space entry.

When to Schedule a Silo Inspection

There are ways to maximize your time when determining your routine silo inspection schedule. For example, you make the most of your bottom line by scheduling your routine silo inspection during planned downtime or your slow season. 

To maximize savings and eliminate extra downtime, schedule your silo cleaning at the same time as an inspection. This is one of the best ways to ensure your silo continues operating at the optimum capacity and your production stays on schedule. 

By scheduling silo cleaning and inspections during programmed downtime, you can prevent unexpected delays during busy months. Picking a time when you know your silo will be emptied also allows a professional silo company to inspect the interior and exterior silo components thoroughly. 

While a silo inspection differs from a scheduled cleaning project, technicians with a wide range of experience can notify you of concerns that warrant a professional inspection and repair. In choosing a full-service company, you are already aligned with someone who can correct any issues uncovered during a cleaning quickly and conveniently. 

Though good silo cleaning companies can recommend an inspection and repair company, this requires additional information and independent quotations which can drastically lengthen downtime. 

Another way to get the most out of your routine inspection is by choosing a full-service silo company that is qualified to handle the inspection as well as the silo cleaning and necessary repairs. Working with one company reduces the amount of back-and-forth communications during the project bid. It gives the company direct access to the issue to generate the most accurate solution, minimize downtime, and deliver a cost-effective remedy. 

Choosing a full-service silo company that can address all aspects of your silo means recommended repairs can often be completed in the same mobilization. This can help shorten the total job time and lower costs by eliminating emergency or rush fees. 

Full-service companies have experience with the entire lifecycle of silos. Because of their full capability of inspection, construction, repair, and cleaning, full-service companies have a broad knowledge of silos. 

They can make recommendations on sight, perform scheduled maintenance, and better understand the cause and effect of their actions. In short, a full-service company can fix your silo problem, not just tell you there is one.

Dennis Blauser is the CEO of Marietta Group, which includes Marietta Silos Inc., Marietta Inspection Services and USA Silo Service. 

Signs You Need A Silo Inspection Sooner

While the general recommendation for silo inspection is annually or bi-annually, depending on silo usage, other factors can increase that interval. 

  • Extreme Weather – Though concrete silos can withstand harsh weather conditions that would cause steel silos to buckle, they are not infallible. Hurricanes, flooding, and other extreme weather events can create issues that the untrained eye misses.
  • Changes in Production – Slower production or a higher rate of loading or unloading the silo can indicate material flow issues or blockages in your cement storage silos. When left unaddressed, these issues can create increased and focused pressure on the silo wall, resulting in bowing, cracking, and eventual wall failure. 
  • Signs of New Damage – If you see new evidence of exterior silo damage such as cracks or spalling concrete, it’s important to have it assessed. A professional silo engineer can determine the risk level and provide restoration recommendations.

Regular maintenance, including cleaning, inspection and repair, keeps your silo efficient and limits potential liabilities. Proper care of your silo improves its useable life and can minimize big-ticket repair and cleaning costs. Professional inspection and preventive maintenance are the only ways to prevent silo emergencies. Maintenance alone, however, doesn’t stop with the inspection. Following through with any repairs recommended due to the inspection is just as important.

Continued news reports of silo failures that lead to injuries and fatalities should serve as a reminder that regular, professional silo inspections are not just recommended – they’re critical. The only way to be a financially and socially responsible silo owner is to ensure your silo always functions safely. Regular, professional inspections by a firm specializing in silo construction or engineering are the most effective way to find potential problems early. Fixing problems quickly, before they become an emergency, helps save money and can reduce or eliminate safety issues. The long-term savings, reduced liability, and reduction of unplanned downtime that results from professional silo inspections should be seen as an investment. It is far cheaper to address issues early on than to address a silo failure.

An experienced silo engineer performing an exterior inspection of slipform concrete silos. In the image, the silo engineer uses a hammer during concrete sounding, a particular inspection technique used to check for delamination of the exterior silo wall.

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