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Quantity Versus Quality of Inspections – Taking Shortcuts

This article was originally published in March 2005 and has been revamped and re-published here.

As weights and measures jurisdictions grapple with finding the right balance in allocating their limited resources, program administrators must carefully consider their choices to ensure they select a sound alternative that does not sacrifice quality and effectiveness for expediency. This article highlights some observations that are based on core weights and measures inspection principles about the impact of reducing inspections to a simple “check” of device accuracy.

Years ago, an administrator for whom I worked proclaimed all weights and measures field officials could be separated into one of two distinct groups, “inspectors and checkers.” He bestowed the title “inspector” upon those individuals he believed demonstrated individual work habits that were necessary to properly satisfy the requirements of the position. “Checkers,” on the other hand, performed below his standards of expected performance for individuals who held the position.

Infographic comparing characteristics of a checker vs. an inspector
Inspector vs. Checker Infographic

Inspectors are trained professionals who perform thorough inspections and always follow established test procedures to verify that devices or packages are accurate and ultimately ensure marketplace equity. However, they also understand that specifications and user requirements are just as important as performance requirements and, therefore, enforced them equally. They realize that a critically important aspect of being able to perform a thorough inspection was knowing not only which requirements applied to the equipment or packages they are inspecting but why those requirements were developed in the first place. That is, they know the history supporting each and every requirement in NIST Handbooks 44, 130, and 133 that they are applying. They are not only willing to take the time necessary to make sure that all inspections and tests were completed properly, but also, that device users are selecting, installing, and operating equipment as required. Their work habits result in the disclosure of most violations. They enforce all requirements and take the appropriate action necessary to resolve violations, working to educate device users and obtain compliance.

Checkers focus their work efforts mainly on verifying, or “checking,” that devices or packages (in the case of package inspections) are accurate, often ignoring other specifications and requirements that can directly impact the accuracy and transparency of a transaction. To individuals in this group, completing a high number of examinations is far more important than taking the time necessary to find all violations. In their quest for more numbers, they will often take shortcuts, sometimes even developing their own test or inspection procedures to speed the process of getting through an examination so that they can move forward with the next. They often fail to find deficiencies that are not obvious because taking the time to look for them is viewed as a waste of time, since seldom, according to individuals in this group, will those searches actually disclose any problems. For example, a checker might take the time to perform an adequate test on a scale, but neglect to determine whether users are operating the device in accordance with applicable user requirements, such as taking proper tare or starting transactions with the scale on zero. As a result, a scale found to be accurate might receive approval, but its continued use may provide incorrect weights to customers. Checkers prefer to avoid confrontations, which my administrator regarded as a weakness because confrontations were viewed as a natural occurring element of enforcement work and a part of educating device owners and operators.

By describing the work traits of individuals ranked in these two classifications, this particular administrator taught me the personal qualities of a field official that he most favored and the habits that he disliked. It immediately became obvious to me that if I wanted him to regard me as an employee of high esteem, I would need to establish the work habits of an inspector rather than those of a checker.

Whether the field official establishes the work habits of an inspector or a checker (or perhaps some combination of both) ultimately depends upon the actions of management. Field supervisors and administrators alike must not only communicate the expectations of the position; they must also demonstrate their commitment to helping individuals achieve what is expected. If the message being sent through management’s actions is that quality and quantity of inspection are equally important, employees will adjust their work habits to achieve those expectations. Likewise, if management’s message is that quantity is more important than quality of inspection, employees will adjust the level of quality in their work to provide management what is desired.

Amongst weights and measures administrators today, there are opposing views on how much emphasis to place upon the number of examinations completed versus the quality of those examinations. Most would agree, I think, that numbers are important in that they tend to provide an indication of the amount of work produced within a given program. However, numbers are of no real significance if the results of the examinations associated with them are questionable because officials failed to follow correct procedures or neglected to complete all portions of the examinations. Particularly if the end result of such shortcuts is inaccurate measurement transactions.

Some interesting questions can be raised regarding those who perform these improper examinations and the programs that advocate their use for the purpose of increasing numbers.

  • Who actually benefits from these actions?
  • What service is being provided to those (the taxpayers) who fund these programs?
  • Why should an enforcement program that finds few violations or produces questionable results continue to be funded?

The duties of field officials not only involve the completion of an adequate number of inspections; these duties also entail following established procedures, searching for hidden deficiencies, and understanding and enforcing all applicable requirements. More simply stated, those are the quality work habits associated with the “inspector” classification.

There is no question that with today’s diminishing budgets administrators are faced with more difficult decisions regarding how much emphasis to place on “inspection” activities versus “checking” activities. But one thing that is certain is, if a weights and measures jurisdiction is to retain its value to the marketplace, it must serve more function than a simple test or “check” to determine if a device or package is accurate.

Released September 28, 2022, Updated September 30, 2022