APPROVED WEIGHING MACHINES
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Read one article to find out everything you could possibly want to know
about weighing and weighing machines: Choosing
a Weighing Machine
Approved for use in trade means buying or selling on a value-for-weight basis. This applies to all transactions, whether in a shop, antiques fair, market or even a boot sale, even if you do not regard yourself as a trader. So if you are offering to buy or sell anything by weight, you MUST use an approved balance, it is the law; if you are not buying or selling by weight, then there is no need to read on.
In this article I refer to Weights & Measures Inspectors - these are Trading Standards Officers who happen to deal with weights and measures.
BREXIT UPDATE FOR 2021 / 2022
When we joined the EU and agreed to abide by EU standards, the cost of approved scales fell by half, quite literally overnight. Now that we have left the EU we will be reverting to UK standards. This will be done by 1 January 2022.
Our current models are EU-approved, they will still be approved after 1 January 2022, they will remain approved...forever. However, as from 1 January 2022 suppliers (such as ourselves) must not sell EU-approved scales. So far (Spring 2021) the government haven't told told anyone how the transition from EU standards to UK standards will take place. Also, for the manufacturers/importers “transfer of approvals” from the EU standards to UK standards will cost them a few thousand pounds per model, so price rises are inevitable.
WHO NEEDS AN APPROVED BALANCE?
If you buy or sell by weight (i.e. an amount of money per gram or per ounce) then you need an approved balance. However, if you use a weighing machine as part of your valuation and stock control, but do not base the value on weight (e.g. jewellery where the main value is in gemstones, diamonds or antique value) then you do not need an approved balance - you are still a trader, but you are not using the balance 'in trade'.
Any Weights & Measures Inspector will notice if you are buying or selling by weight, even if you pretend otherwise. He can see whether you are calculating a price based on weight or if you are calculating the price by carefully evaluating gemstones and hallmarks.
In the past I said that pawnbroking was an 'iffy' area, and that a few of our customers had telephoned their local Trading Standards merely to be told that this was an 'iffy' area. Following a 2½ hour meeting with a Weights and Measures Inspector, I can now clarify the position: pawnbrokers do need to use approved balances.
Another 'iffy' area is auctioneering. In theory, auction houses do not need to use approved balances, they are not buying or selling by weight, they are merely carrying out a valuation to set a reserve price. However, if they print the weight in their catalogue and if someone happens to be bidding on a weight basis, then the balance becomes 'for use in trade' and will need to be approved.
At fairs and markets the same laws apply. Traders buying scrap must use an approved balance. You may say to yourself, “But nobody uses an approved balance in my market, and never has done!”. Maybe everyone unloading at the market parks on a double yellow line. I can only tell you about the law, not how it is enforced.
The actual standards for Weights and Measures are determined by the National Measurement Office who study the law, look at the science, and issue guidelines to Weights & Measures Authorities. The law is enforced by Weights and Measures Inspectors, they work for the Trading Standards department at your Local Council. You can find them by going to Trading Standard's Home Page (enter your postcode in the box at the top and click 'go'). If you wish to study the law yourself, see the Weights & Measures Act 1985 and its many amendments. Then, if you disagree with an inspector, you may accept his offer to have the matter settled in court.
Each Local Council's Trading Standards Department enforces the law at a local level. So whilst the law is consistent, each Local Council has its own priorities regarding enforcement (i.e. they might have more important things to do!)
APPROVED BALANCES, CLASSES OF BALANCE
First, the easy bit. A weighing machine used in trade must be stamped with a special sticker. These stickers are seals that are carefully placed over vital screws on the balance, if you break the seal and touch the screws (to open or recalibrate the balance) it will no longer be approved.
There are four Classes (grades) of approved balance:
CLASS 4 need not
concern you, it is for heavy items such as heavy goods vehicles
- Complication No. 1: 1g or 0.1g or 0.01g?
When you buy an approved CLASS 2 balance the manufacturers might give you its specification as, for instance, 6000g in steps of 0.1g. What they don't tell you is that once it's approved, you are not supposed to use that last decimal place when used ‘in trade’. So, for instance, having spent hundreds of pounds and thinking you will be weighing down to 0.1g you will discover that the balance now has a red cross painted over that last decimal place so that it only reads to the nearest 1g. (though the 0.1g will still be visible under the red cross). For your own purposes (away from customers and merely for your own valuation purposes) you may weigh to 0.1g, but when buying by weight you are supposed to ignore the 0.1g and work to the nearest 1g.
All the balances we sell have this two-tier system, a more sensitive reading for your own use and a less sensitive reading for buying precious metals by weight.
- Complication No. 2: buying or selling?
If you are selling by weight, the customer must be able to see the display and you must never use a balance with a ‘crossed out’ digit, but you can use it to price items by weight (ignoring that ‘crossed out digit’) out of sight of the customer.
The A&D balances do not have a display facing the customer, therefore they can be used for buying by weight but not for selling by weight. The OHAUS scales have an optional front-facing display with which you can sell by weight in addition to buying by weight.
Why so complicated?? - because when the law was made, it was assumed that retailers sold goods by weight, but nobody ever thought that a trader might buy by weight, and so the words "and buying" were not included in the law.
- Complication No. 3: balances calibrated by area
Some CLASS 2 balances (e.g. those from A&D) are calibrated for a particular area (usually a town, sometimes a full postcode). This is to allow for variations in gravity (which varies according to latitude and altitude). So if, for instance, you use a balance in Liverpool, then it will be calibrated for Liverpool. This means that if you work at fairs and markets all over the county you should have a weighing balance for each location.
So what happens when a Weights & Measure Inspector visits?
If you show him the Certificate of Calibration, and the town (or postcode) is not where you are actually using the balance, then he will tell you to stop using it. If you can’t find the certificate, the inspector could ask the supplier where the balance was calibrated then get the details from the laboratory. However, it is more likely that the inspector will simply test the balance, and if it is OK it is OK and everybody is happy. I recommend, therefore, that you check the balance at each location (by weighing a known, accurate,weight).
- So which one?!
At this point, customers say to me, in exasperation, "Just tell me which balance I need that is OK according to the law, and which I can carry around the country!". The answer is, stick with our Ohaus models. These are not calibrated for a particular area, they can be used anywhere. HOW this works is quite ingenious. You pull a lever which lowers an actual physical weight onto an internal weighing pan to reset the electronics to match the weight/gravity (i.e. calibrate it).
HOW OFTEN DOES AN APPROVED BALANCE NEED TO BE CHECKED?
With a cheaper balance (calibrated for use at one location) check it whenever it is moved. If you work at fairs and markets, that includes moving to a new venue, it also includes moving the balance from one side of the stall to the other. Even if the balance lives on a shop counter and is never moved (not even by a few inches) it is wise to check it every few weeks. To check it, buy a weight, any weight that is near (or at) the top of the balance’s range. Switch the balance on, place the weight on the platform, check the reading. It really is no more complicated than that. Although the instruction manual will tell you how to recalibrate the balance if you are getting incorrect readings, you cannot do this – this feature is disabled when the balance is approved, you must send it back to us for recalibration. There's a 2-page booklet you can download, the first page is about DIY calibration of non-approved scales, see page 2 for details of when an approved scale might need to be recalibrated.
An approved balance is not likely to need recalibrating from one year to the next unless it is mis-treated. Do not overload it, do not allow anyone to ‘bounce their hand’ on it. If transported, do not pack it with any pressure on the weighing platform. Do not store anything on the weighing platform, not even a pen or a notebook. An approved balance is expensive, look after it!
APPROVED WEIGHING MACHINES - CALIBRATE OR REPAIR?
The reading on a measuring device (any measuring device, e.g. a thermometer, weighing machine, clock...anything) must match the units it is measuring (e.g. degrees, grams, minutes). This matching-up is called calibration. When a balance goes out of calibration the readings will not match the units, e.g. a 100g weight might weigh 105g. Sometimes you can fix this by calibrating it yourself (i.e. it is not 'broken' !), sometimes you can't.
A&D scales cannot be recalibrated, this feature (listed in the instruction manual) is disabled when the balance is approved by Trading Standards, (‘approved’). You must send the scale back to us. This is not to be confused with the machine being ‘broken’. If it is broken, it will need to be repaired, and once it is repaired it will need to be calibrated again.
OHAUS scales can be recalibrated yourself (it's quite simple, instructions included with the scale) so you must try this before assuming the scale is broken.
CHARGES. Trading Standards charge for calibration, about £150.00 including VAT - and this quite independent of any “repair” and the fee is not refundable. If it fails, you have a choice. We can return it to you un-repaired (you don’t get the calibration fee back) or we can quote for a repair. Not only don’t you get the original calibration fee back, but the quote for the repair will include another calibration fee…because Trading Standards are going to charge again. I think this is grossly unfair but please understand - we do not make the rules. The best I can do is to give you an idea of what might be wrong with the scales in the first place:
• It isn’t weighing
accurately when you weigh an item at the top of its range (e.g. when
you weigh a 200g weight on a machine that weighs up to 200g).
• It weighs perfectly
but you haven’t had it checked for a long time.
• It is dead, the
display won’t light up.
• The reading is
erratic, it drifts (or jumps) up and down when nothing is being weighed.
QUICKTEST, Watford, WD18 8PH, Tel. 01923 220206, email info(at)quicktest.co.uk