Posted Thursday, August 16th, 2012

Ensuring compliance in the marketplace – that is the mission of the Morris County Division of Weights and Measures.

Each day, inspectors go out into the field and make stops at gas stations, supermarkets, department stores and any commercial establishment that uses a weighing or measuring device to ensure that commodities sold to consumers are being accurately measured and weighed.

“We inspect more than 1,400 businesses each year,” said Weights and Measures Superintendent Robert Alviene. “We want to make sure that when a package of ground beef is labeled one pound, for example, it does in fact contain one pound of ground beef.”

Alviene said his office’s seven inspectors use highly accurate equipment to inspect all of the 9,493 types of scales, meters and scanning equipment used for commercial purposes in the county, including 4,500 pumps at the county’s 236 gas stations.

“We check to ensure that pumps are dispensing accurate amounts of fuel, that pumps and hoses are not damaged, that advertised prices accurately reflect the price being charged and that prices do not change more that once a day,” Alviene said.

Alviene advises motorists to look for a blue Weights and Measures sticker on the gas pump, which verifies that the pump has been inspected annually as required and found to be in proper working order.

Oil truck meters and jet fuel dispensers at airports are also checked for accuracy, as are the scanning devices and scales in supermarkets and grocery stores, Alviene said.

“With a scanning device, we test the accuracy of prices charged at the register to the lowest posted or advertised price,” Alviene said. “We can perform the test with a hand-held scanner or by simulating a customer transaction at a vacant register.”

When a scanner error is detected, 96 percent of the time it is not in the consumer’s favor, Alviene said.

Scales in supermarkets and grocery stores are also tested and a blue sticker seal punched with the current year is attached to them to indicate they have been tested. A secondary lead and wire seal is also affixed to prevent calibration tampering, he said.

The Weights and Measures inspectors also audit large and varied products to make sure the declared quantity of an item is present and correct as advertised, exclusive of all packaging and wrapping materials. Depending on the declaration this can be by weight, count or volume, Alviene said.

When a violation is discovered, there are several courses of action that can be taken, including issuing a warning, taking the device out of service until the problem is corrected, seizing the device or prosecuting the violation, Alviene said.

“Whatever course of action we decide to take depends on a number of factors, including the possible effects of the inaccuracy, the type of violation and establishment’s history,” Alviene said.

Among the other pieces of equipment that are tested for accuracy are the timing devices on air dispensers and vacuum cleaners at service stations; the timing mechanisms on tanning beds and on washers and dryers in Laundromats; and scales at roadside farm stands; pharmacies; and jewelry stores including gold buyers and sellers.

Alviene said protecting honesty in the marketplace extends to the business establishment as well, and not only the consumer.

“On many occasions we find errors that result in gain to the consumer and loss to a business,” Alviene said. “In these cases, we report the defects to the business management to correct them as they see fit.”

The Weights and Measures Office is certified by the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, Office of Weights and Measures, but it is not a consumer affairs office. “However, we readily accept consumer concerns regarding weights and measures issues and act upon those complaints in a timely manner,” Alviene said.

The Morris County Division of Weights and Measures may be reached by calling 973-285-2955.