Silo Failures and Failing Roof Support Beam Bearings: Inspections and Engineering Solutions Can Prevent Serious Issues and Keep Employees Safe

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Most reinforced concrete silos, whether it be in cement, coal or grain, have concrete roof slabs supported by the perimeter wall but also by discrete structural steel wide flanged beams. These beams rely on the silo walls for support. Based upon inspections of numerous facilities across a variety of industries in the past few years, we have seen that more than two of every three facilities we inspect have issues with failing roof support beam bearings.

These issues are due to many factors, from differential settlement, engineers placing fixity on bearings connections, asymmetric flow, use of interstices, and more. 

I presented at IEEE/PCA about this phenomenon that affects so many industries. Since a tragic accident involving the failure of a silo roof a few years ago at a cement plant, the cement industry has led the charge on awareness, inspections and repairs to keep structures safe. SSI Consulting has been involved with silo inspections at nine different cement manufacturers that have all had roof beam bearing failures. 

Many facilities processing grain, coal, aggregate, phosphate, and other granular materials also have issues.

It needs to be stressed that this is a serious challenge. Some owners have indicated to me personally that they would almost rather not know about these issues. Indeed, one can see the point in this litigious world that as soon as someone knows about a problem and doesn’t act on it, they could be in more trouble than if they had plausible deniability.

Having served as a technical expert for two defendants on silo roof beam bearing failure cases, there are several points against feigning ignorance: 

  • We are talking about people’s lives. Personnel have the right to go to work with every expectation that they will go home at the end of that shift. They also should be able to assume that their employer is looking out for him or her, and that the management of the facility and company are taking reasonable steps to keep them safe.

  • When personnel feel that management is investing in them, which includes maintaining a safe facility, they feel more empowered and invested in their work. In this day where skilled labor is in short supply, investing in current employees makes sense. It helps decrease turnover, reduce brain drain, and can increase worker productivity.

  • Even if an owner does not have knowledge of issues (as in the case of ignoring warning signs or not investing in inspection programs), these same companies are on the hook when something goes wrong.  Seeing the pain and agony caused by catastrophic failures, when these failures could have easily been prevented, is unsettling.

SSI Consulting provides peace of mind by performing comprehensive inspections to evaluate the status of your company’s structures. There are a range of options available, from cursory inspections, to inspections that allow us to reach elevated portions of the silo walls, to in-depth inspections where we enter into storage spaces using confined space entry procedures.

We also use modern technology with remote cameras and drones in conjunction with our technical experience.

We balance education with experience – we’ve seen serious issues and know how to address them. Relatedly, since we’ve seen problems, we also know when there isn’t an issue. We’ll work with you to provide real world solutions. 

Ready for an evaluation of your structures?


Let’s connect at the IEEE-IAS/PCA Cement industry Technical Conference in St. Louis, April 28-May 2, 2019. Come see Gerry’s presentation Tuesday afternoon about challenges with blending/homogenizing silos.

Gerard Lynskey