September 01, 2015

01/09/2015: Crucial factors in steel grain bin management

by Kirk Nelson, Director of Marketing and Sales Behlen Mfg. Co. 

First published in Milling and Grain, May 2015

At the recent GEAPS Exchange in St. Louis, Missouri, Kirk Nelson addressed the fundamentals of steel bin installation and maintenance. Safety awareness was also highlighted, a topic that remains of critical importance to those working in the grain, storage and handling industry. In the past 50 years, more than 900 cases of grain engulfment have been reported with a fatality rate of 62 percent, according to researchers at Purdue University in Indiana. Nelson cited the main hazards associated with grain bins commonly include; grain engulfment and burial, falls from heights, dust and mould inhalation, pesticide exposure, electrocution and injuries from augurs.

In this four-part series, Milling and Grain take a closer look at the essential elements of bin maintenance, starting with the crucial considerations relating to bin construction and bin safety measures. In this talk, Nelson pointed out that usually steel corrugated grain bins are designed and manufactured to withstand the constant forces applied when they are filled with grain and when properly installed and operated, storage structures should provide many years of good service.

However, it is vital that those who erect the structure in the first place follow proper guidelines. It is usually worth consulting experts to carry out the process of erection. First, it is critical that erection manuals and assembly drawings are thoroughly studied prior to construction of the bin. Acquiring proper knowledge of individual assembly procedures aids safety and speed of construction.

Before erecting a steel bin, soil-boring tests should be performed by a competent, independent geotechnical engineering firm. Failing to ensure this process is carried out can have disastrous consequences. Damage to a bin can result from factors including poor soil, the wrong type of concrete, and construction method used.

The strength and stability of a footing or foundation depends on factors such as climate, subsidence, elastic and/or plastic deformations, shear deformation, and soil consolidation. Any number of these factors may be present on a given foundation project, and each is relatively independent of the other; that is to say, each must be considered and dealt with separately. To be safe from one standpoint does not necessarily ensure one’s being safe from any of the others, Nelson said.

Seismic and wind conditions should also be taken into consideration. Companies should check for any local or regional building codes and regulations to ensure compliance, including but not limited to seismic zone conditions and high winds. Furthermore, proximity to roads, rail, power, and gas lines cannot be overlooked.

Depending on the primary function of the facility the bins will likely be located close to one or more of these utilities. While close proximity is important to keep construction, and operation cost to a minimum, it is also important to maintain safe distances. Careful considerations should be taken to meet local codes and offer a safe working environment for those in, and around the facility.

Moreover, it is very important to ensure that loads on bin roofs do not exceed manufacturer’s ratings. While initial installation may prove successful, if these loads are not properly designed, heavy snow loads or high wind conditions can lead to roof failures. Equally, It is not enough to make sure the roof rating is adequate, it is also very important to ensure all loads on roof are uniformly distributed to the peak according to the manufactures recommendations.

It is critical that bin components are kept dry prior to installation. White rusting can and will occur should components become wet during the construction process. This can occur not only by means of rain but also condensation. Outside storage on the job site should be for a limited time only and just prior to use in the erection of the bins, and when site, and weather conditions are favourable.

Last, miscellaneous components such as, kits, nuts and bolts, crates, and skids should be stored on blocks to prevent contact with the ground. One end should be blocked higher than the other to permit drainage in the case of rainfall. Roof panels should be individually separated and stored on blocks to prevent contact with the ground. Spacers should be used between each roof sheet to aid in air flow/ventilation between sheets.

One end of the panel(s) should be blocked 3” to 6” higher to permit rainwater to run off the panels. Wall panels should be individually separated and placed on edge on blocks, with spaces between each panel. Materials should be temporarily covered with tarps only during times of rainfall to protect the materials.

Otherwise the materials should be left uncovered to aid in airflow. Galvanised steel is subject to corrosion and discoloration if moisture becomes entrapped between panels due to condensation, which can lead to corrosion and discoloration.

Safety Safety is paramount when working with grain. All members of staff should learn how to use controls and operate equipment correctly. It is critical that no one is allowed to operate equipment without thorough training of basic operating and safety procedures, said Nelson. All mechanical and electrical components should be periodically checked to keep them in good condition. It goes without saying that no un-authorised modifications should be made the equipment; doing so may endanger function and safety of the equipment.

Nelson went on to point out that weather-related safety hazards should not be overlooked, particularly ice and snow. Icicles and snow falling from bin eaves are dangerous and can cause serious injury or even death. Ice or moisture on ladders can cause slippery conditions that may result in life-threatening falls. Decals are attached to the equipment at various places to call attention to messages concerning personal safety. Read and heed the message and be alert to the possibility of personal injury or fatality.

It is the responsibility as an owner, operator or supervisor to know what hazards exist and to make these known to all other personnel working in the area, so that they too may take any necessary safety precautions that may be required.

Before carrying out any service on the equipment or entering the bin, those operating should be certain that the main power disconnect switch is locked in the “off’ position. Guards and shields should not be overlooked; they are there for protection and should be kept in place and secured while the machine is in operation. All safety shields that may have been damaged or removed for servicing purposes should be replaced and fastened securely before operating machinery.

Comprehensive points to note are: 

  • Keep all persons away from any hazard areas 
  • Keep hands, feet and clothing away from moving parts. Loose clothing can become entangled in rotating parts and cause serious injury 
  • Be aware of the danger that is present when loading or unloading a grain bin. Grain that has bridged or tunneled may suddenly break loose and trap a person who may be inside the bin. Death by suffocation can result. Avoid entering the bin until the grain is removed 
  • Ladders and walking and working surfaces should have safety cages and handrails for safe use. Use a lifeline and harness when the danger of falling exists 
  • Avoid entering bin before all grain is removed. Be aware of engulfment risks and use lifeline and harness when entering a bin. Do not walk on grain under any circumstances 
  • Always have other personnel outside of bin before entering 
  • Be aware of sumps and handling equipment on the floors – avoid these areas
Behlen Mfg. Co. is a leading international manufacturer of grain storage systems. These structures are used worldwide in a multitude of locations storing a wide variety of grain. Behlen bins range in size from a few thousand bushels to over 1,500,00 bushels. The Behlen grain storage buildings can be custom designed for many applications.

In next month’s storage section, we look at the factors involved with bin usage. 

Read the magazine HERE.

The Global Miller
This blog is maintained by The Global Miller staff and is supported by the magazine GFMT
which is published by Perendale Publishers Limited.

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