Several times a year, the Weights and Measures Lab in Tifton has a date with Lady Luck. That’s because each month Georgia State Lottery officials bring a random selection of lottery balls to the facility to be weighed. Ball number 12 must weigh exactly the same as ball number 1 and every other ball in the hopper to ensure that luck, not weight, brings the winning numbers to the top.
Maintaining the integrity of the lottery process and protecting the interests of the people who play is just one very small example of the very big job the Department of Agriculture’s Division of Fuel and Measures does. The division covers lots of ground, with 20 inspectors operating the smallest scales that weigh lottery balls to the largest that weigh truckloads traveling the Georgia roads. Another 20 inspectors and lab personnel are responsible for testing fuel quality and pump accuracy at fuel terminals and gas stations across the state. It’s a job that requires the use of precision equipment by trained professionals.
“Our goal is to ensure that consumers are protected in the marketplace,” says Rich Lewis, the division director. “We want them to feel confident that they are getting what they pay for. Our services also benefit businesses, because by randomly inspecting pumps and scales we are creating a level playing field. Everyone’s measures and quality are held to the same standard. That way one business doesn’t have a competitive advantage over another.”
The work of the Fuel and Measures Division is not a service that Georgians typically see, but it’s certainly one that impacts their pocketbooks. Inspectors visit hardware stores, grocery stores, pawn shops, any establishment where commodities are sold by weight, to verify the accuracy of the scales. For jobs, more than 10,000 pounds, inspectors work in teams of two, checking scales at lumberyards, livestock barns and truck stops.
While most inspections take place on-site at the business, a dimension of the work requires additional technology and expertise. That’s where the new Weights and Measures Lab, which opened in 2011, comes in. A state-of-the-art facility, the lab literally tips the scales in Georgians’ favor by providing technology that ensures precision standards for scales and accurate information for fuel samples.
“When inspectors are at gas stations, they pull samples of the fuel and then the lab tests them to check that the octane levels are correct, that the gas doesn’t have impurities, and that the ethanol content is right,” says Lewis. “In the weights and measures part of the lab, tests are done on the standard weights that inspectors take with them to test on-site scales.”
To assist inspectors in the Metro Atlanta area, the division also staffs a mobile lab to make the screening process more efficient.
If that’s not enough, the division is responsible for checking the accuracy of fuel pumps in addition to quality of the fuel, so that the price consumers see advertised is actually the price they are paying. Sometimes the pump inspection requires an adjustment in the consumer’s favor; other times the station benefits from the findings. Division employees also inspect propane meters on delivery trucks and grain moisture meters at grain warehouses to be sure they are accurate. Fielding consumer complaints is also part of the job.
“There is an 800 number on every gas pump,” explains Lewis. “Consumers who feel the pump is inaccurate or that the fuel quality is suspect can call that number and we will investigate. We want to be sure that the price that is advertised is really what the consumer is getting.”