Social Security Judges and Sprinkler Inspections

The Wall Street Journal reports that a judge working for the Social Security administration awarded benefits in every case he presided over in the first six months of fiscal 2011. After the article ran, the judge was placed on leave while the Inspector General investigated.
Using statistical analysis, the Journal found an anomaly that raised concerns.
Fire sprinkler systems also have statistical failure rates that owners can use as a benchmark to evaluate against their own sprinkler systems.

For example: a Hotel in Ohio was regularly inspected by the same sprinkler Contractor since opening. Each year, the Contractor would inspect and certify the system. There were no deficiencies or equipment failures ever identified by the Contractor.
Using Cherokee Fire Protection Co's own internal statistics, 1 out of 5 hotels in the state of Ohio contained recalled fire sprinklers in 2006. So, there was a 20% chance that this hotel contained recalled fire sprinklers.
When Cherokee Fire inspected the Hotel, which was passing previous Inspections for the past several years, we found that 100% of the fire sprinklers were recalled. Unfortunately, the Hotel owner missed the filing deadline for a free replacement program through the sprinkler manufacturer and had to pay out-of-pocket to replace all of the fire sprinklers.

Here's another example: The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends that sprinkler systems are inspected on weekly, monthly and quarterly intervals. These guidelines are based on statistical data from sprinkler failures and losses from fire which has been carefully analyzed. Properly conducted, and inspection program consistent with NFPA standards would minimize the risk of fire sprinkler failure and associated loss from fire.
A Fireworks store in Kentucky recently burned to the ground. The store was equipped with an automatic fire sprinkler system. The Fire Marshal determined that the valves controlling water to the fire sprinkler system were Shut OFF. So, the sprinklers had to water to operate and control the fire. Since the NFPA recommends weekly inspection of Control Valves to verify they are properly open, this owner may have additional costs if the Building Insurer determines that weekly inspections were not conducted and denies coverage based on the Insurance Policy requirement to follow NFPA standards. (Statistics indicate the most common reason for fire loss in a building equipped with fire sprinkler systems are closed Control Valves).

So, owners should expect failure rates from their sprinkler inspections that are consistent with industry statistics. Higher than average failure rates may be due to faulty installations, improper maintenance or other reasons and a root cause analysis should be considered to determine the reason. Lower than average, or in the case of the Hotel, no failure rates during inspections over a period of time should raise owner concern.

The last thing that the Social Security Administration wants is a rubber-stamping judge; owners should be wary of rubber-stamping fire sprinkler contractors/ inspectors.


  1. Fire sprinkles are very useful at so many safety issue. There are so many equipments which we will not have to use if we are using this equipments as it is very useful to take control over fire.

  2. Great article, Forest. Building owners really need to make sure they hire quality firms for their inspection, testing, and maintenance. We did a walk-through (part of a property loss control survey) in a facility 10 years ago and made the recommendation to remove masking tape that was noted on several fire sprinklers, since the tape could inhibit their function. Since then, that same facility had nine annual sprinkler inspections (clearly, not by us) and the tape on the sprinklers was never identified in any of these inspections. We did another property loss control survey this year and the tape was STILL there.

    Part of the problem is also awareness. Too often, building owners don’t even know there is an existing problem with their systems. In the meantime, HVAC systems that keep people comfortable receive considerable attention because of the complaints that flood in when it isn’t working. That's why inspection, testing, and maintenance by a reputable firm is so important.

  3. Great post I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this interesting and knowledgeable article.
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