County Worker Has Weighty Job
Article courtesy Today’s Sunbeam

By COURTNEY ELKO, Staff Writer
Monday, March 7, 2005

SALEM — Some people take it for granted that when they drop their bag of apples on the scale at the local grocery store, the weight will read correctly.

Mark Robbins does not.

And neither does the government as it declared the first week in March National Weights and Measures Week.

Robbins, Salem County weights and measures superintendent, said Weights and Measures week is designed familiarize consumers about his department’s mission to make sure they get what they pay for.

“We want to make consumers aware,” he said.

Robbins’ job includes checking all scales 1,000 pounds or less and tanks, such as at gas stations, in the county.

“We are the go between for the business and the consumer to maintain weights of products,” he said.

The weights and measures team goes into a store or to a gas station unannounced and uses a calibration machine to made checks, Robbins said.

“If a gas station says one gallon of gas is $1.75 we check to make sure the consumer is getting $1.75 worth of gas,” he said.

Robbins said he also does random package checks at stores.

“We’ll take a box of one pound crackers and weigh it to make sure there is in fact one pound of crackers in there,” he said.

Robbins said they do a yearly check on all weighing devices in the county, from luncheon meat scales to animal feed scales, gas station pumps and timing devices like laundry machines and car washes.

A consumer should look for a blue sticker on a scale to know that it has been certified, he said. An orange sticker means it did not pass and the measure is not accurate.

“Under the glass on a supermarket scanner we put a wire seal so we can tell if the seal has been broken and the scale has been adjusted,” Robbins said. “Then the blue sticker goes on the outside and the business is issued paperwork saying their scale has been tested.”

He said if he goes to a large supermarket and the store has 25 meat scales he checks them all and also the scanners in the front.

“Depending on how many scales are in one store, I may be there all day,” Robbins said. “If it’s a new scale and it’s the first time being tested, it takes about an hour to do the test.”

He said it takes him and a part-time employee all year to test all the scales in the county.

The Weights and Measures Department uses certified equipment that is checked every five years nationally and internationally, Robbins said. The equipment is sensitive, stainless steel with a sight glass for accurate readings.

He said a five gallon gas tank is permitted to be off by three ounces unless it is a new tank and then it is only a one ounce leeway.

“If a business does not have an accurate reading we issue them paperwork saying if they do not fix the problem within seven to 10 days they will be fined,” Robbins said.

He said the charge for a business to register the equipment is $20 a gas hose and $20 a scale but both are capped at no more than $200.

“We started charging for registration in 1994 and 70 percent of the money goes back to the Weights and Measures Department,” Robbins said.

He said if a business does not register the equipment they will be issued a fine.

“We try and work with the business and build a relationship,” Robbins said. “We want to work together and not just issue fines.”