Next time you buy meat from the butcher, pump gas, take a taxi or consume anything that requires an exact measurement, you can thank Stanislaus County Weights and Measures inspector Hector Rodriguez for ensuring you get your moneys worth.
He investigates consumer complaints, and tests devices and products used in the exchange of goods, property and service. He even takes devices out of commission that dont measure up.
In eight years on the job, Rodriguez has been involved in the investigations and successful prosecution of manufacturers of flat-screen televisions that were a half to three-quarters of an inch smaller than advertised and a retailer of PVC pipe that was shorting a landscaper.
Rodriguez and two other inspectors check the accuracy of 9,000 devices in Stanislaus County each year, and sometimes multiple times a year. Every device that passes their scrutiny gets a seal of accuracy.
What type of devices are you responsible for inspecting and what are the other functions of your job?
I inspect and test various types of commercial weighing and measuring devices. Some examples: gasoline, diesel and propane dispensers; fuel and oil delivery trucks; electric, water and gas submeters; taximeters, odometers on medical transport vehicles and tow trucks; grocery store deli and checkout scales, farmers market scales, livestock scales, concrete batching plant scales, truck scales, recycling scales, etc.
After a device has been inspected and is determined to meet all of the specifications and tolerances for its intended purpose, it is certified and a paper seal is attached to it.
Another function of Weights and Measures is to ensure that equity prevails in all commercial transactions involving quantity representations. We monitor commerce at all levels retail, wholesale and manufacturing in order to minimize measurement errors in quantity representations of packaged products. The objective is to create assurance of correct weight and measure. From time to time we will visit locations to sample packages for verification of net contents, including prepackaged meat, paint buckets, oxygen tanks, rugs, landscape materials, bottled and canned beverages, computer and TV screens, lumber products and building materials, firewood, automotive products such as oil and antifreeze, cement bags and PVC tubing.
What kind of tools do you use for your job?
We use a variety of standards and equipment to test commercial weighing and measuring devices. These include all of the units of mass, volume, length, time and energy.
There are several types of mass standards for field use. These vary from weights so small it is necessary to use tweezers for picking them up to weights so heavy it is necessary to use specialized lifting equipment. They range from fractions of a gram to 1,000 pounds.
Volume standards come in many shapes and forms: flasks, graduates, burettes, pipettes, small hand-carried test measures, large vehicle-mounted provers, vehicle-mounted LPG provers and bell provers.
Standards of length can take many forms: tapes, rulers, calipers, micrometers and depth gauges.
Stopwatches are used in a variety of applications as a standard or to supplement other test standards. They are used to determine the accuracy of timing devices such as taximeters and parking meters.
An electric meter watt-hour standard is used for testing utility electric meters.
We also reference the California Business and Professions Code and the California Code of Regulations, which are a comprehensive set of laws and regulations, specifications, tolerances and other technical requirements for weighing and measuring devices.
How did you get this job and what about it interested you?
I ended up with this job almost by accident. After college I worked in the food manufacturing industry for 14 years. When I needed a career change, I came across an employment ad from the Stanislaus County Agricultural Commissioners office that caught my attention.
Like most people, I was unfamiliar with weights and measures. I didnt know too much about the program but the general principle of the job drew my interest: to provide accurate measurements in commercial transactions that can be relied on as fair by both buyer and seller.
Do you get to interact with the public often and what sort of response do you get?
Since the bulk of my inspections are done in public, I do come in contact with many people. Most people are not familiar with Weights and Measures and think that I am a repairman of some sort. Occasionally, someone will walk up to me and ask about what I do. A lot of times they are pleasantly surprised to find out that jobs such as mine exist.
How can a device become inaccurate?
Commercial devices come in many different forms employing a wide range of technologies. They range from simple mechanical scales to complex computerized measuring systems. For this reason, many factors are going to affect performance, and it is difficult to pinpoint any one in particular. In general, some things that affect performance include using the device in a way for which it was not intended by its manufacturer, power surges, circuit board or processor failure, poor maintenance, incorrect setup, accidental misuse, etc.
What do you do when you find a device that is inaccurate?
All types of devices fail inspection from time to time. Devices are machines, and machines do break down.
When a device is inspected, its performance is evaluated through a series of tests. If the device fails to conform to the standard within the permitted applicable tolerances and other performance requirements, it is considered inaccurate. When an inaccurate device is found to perform in favor of the user/owner, a notice of the violation is issued and the device is ordered to be taken out of service immediately. If the device user/owner are not benefiting from a device found in error, an opportunity is given to the user/owner to have the unit(s) repaired by a licensed service agent, usually within 30 days. Once the device has been repaired, it is again re-evaluated.
What is the most interesting part of your job?
The workday is never boring. Every day can be different. The type of equipment, the tools, the locations we visit and the people we meet are all ingredients for an interesting workday. I may start the day off in a department store doing a price verification inspection, followed by checking tare weights of trucks hauling bulk tomatoes to a local cannery, and finishing the day out in the foothills at a cattle ranch inspecting a livestock scale.
Which device requires the most precise reading?
A jewelry scale is one of the most precise devices that we inspect. Some of the jewelry scales we inspect will measure weights down to a hundredth of a gram.
What kind of reports do you investigate from consumers?
We investigate many different types of consumer requests or complaints. Every complaint is given a high level of priority. A complaint may involve such things as an incorrect price charged at a store, an incorrect amount of fuel received from a fuel dispenser, contaminated fuel, a high electric bill at a mobile home park or even a television screen size not making the dimensions stated by the manufacturer.