Metrology and the economy commis by hilen


									                                   METROLOGY AND THE ECONOMY

                          Commissioned Report for Ministry of Consumer Affairs

                                   Mene Mene, Tekel Upharsin
                      (You are weighed in the balance and are found wanting)
                                                                   The Book of Daniel1

9 November 2011                                                                                         Brian Easton*


A major objective of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs in its policy advice and its operations,
      " ... to remove impediments to private transactions and to minimise transaction
      costs between consumers and businesses."2

The Trading Standards Service is a core activity of the Ministry. One of its responsibilities is
ensuring that trade in goods and services in New Zealand is conducted on the basis of fair and
accurate measure.3 In practice, its activities extend beyond New Zealand, because the issue of
accurate measurement is just as important to exporters. Good measurement reduces
transaction costs, while poor measurement increases transaction costs and so impedes market

This paper examines the role of metrology in the economy, and explores further developments
to increase its contribution to economic performance. It shows how the Trading Standards
Service and associated institutions play a vital role in the effectiveness, efficiency and fairness
of the economy.

The Economic Need for Metrology

Two key features of the increasing complexity of the modern economy, are the anonymity
between transactors and the increasing use of technology. Today, economic transactions
(trading) typically occur between people or agencies who are not well known to one another,
so that the accuracy that fairness and confidence in trade requires becomes important. Often
the transaction is one-off with the transactors never trading together again (as when a traveller
purchases petrol from a service station in an otherwise unvisited location), but even where the
transaction is repeated (the regular visit to a supermarket, say) there is normally some
personal distance between those involved. Meanwhile, where the technology is simple, exact
measurement may not be required. As the technology becomes more sophisticated, precision
becomes increasingly necessary.

Yet for the transaction to occur smoothly, at minimum cost, both participants need to be
confident about a series of characteristics which in practice are rarely mentioned in the actual

    Economic And Social Trust On New Zealand, 18 Talavera Tce, Wellington, Phone (04) 934 8950, Fax 934 8952.

transaction. The seller, receiving money for the goods or service, needs to be confident of the
value of the cash received or the reliability of the credit offered. Thus, there has developed a
sophisticated monetary system, even at the retail end where there is an officially guaranteed
money (supported by measures to eliminate counterfeiting), together with private provisions
such as banks, international credit card agencies, and credit advice agencies. Note that where
the provision is private, there is still a need for law to underpin it. One of the functions of
money is, of course, as a measure of value. While the Trading Standards Service is not
involved with the standard measure for money, the monetary system demonstrates the central
role of measurement in economic transactions. Purchasers have metrological concerns too. In
principle, they may not need to know the exact weight of a product. It could be simply bagged
with a price on it, but they would find it more difficult to make accurate comparisons with
other potential purchase decisions, and would be less trusting of sellers.

The significance of accurate measurement is well illustrated by considering transactions
where it is not possible. When purchasing a mattress, say, the buyer can be sure of its size to
fit the bed frame. However, on the crucial matter of the degree of hardness and softness
(recall a person will spend about a third of their life lying on mattresses), there is no agreed
quantitative standards. As a result the purchasing process for a mattress can be much more
complicated than for a bedframe. Or consider the measurement system becomes unstable
changing over time so that inter-period comparisons are difficult. A good example of this is
the fierce inflation which New Zealand experienced in the two decades after 1966, when price
rises were sometimes averaging one percent a month, and were irregular so it became hard to
compare infrequent purchases. The usefulness of money as measure of value was reduced.

While the illustrations thus far have been primarily about retail transactions, measurement is
also vital in inter-firm transactions. Crucial features of the traded product will be summarised
in quantitative measures. In principle any two firms could develop their own measurement
standard, but in practice the potential plethora of such measures (one for every firm the
business traded with) would add greatly to the transaction costs of the firm. There are also
benefits of standardisation within a firm. When one worker asks another for a "five crescent"
(spanner) both know exactly what is meant and the transfer occurs quickly.

It would, however, be wrong to confine the importance of measurement to economic
transactions. When a couple of friends agree to meet at a certain time, they are dependent
upon a national convention on how to measure time. (The appendix illustrates the importance
of measurement in the recreational activity of sport.)

In summary, good standard measures underpin much of modern human endeavour. Where
they do not exist (usually because they cannot) the transactions of economic and social life
may be more cumbersome. A universal standard measure can simplify those transactions
adding to the efficiency of economic activities and the quality of human life.

The Quantitative Significance of Measurement Activity to the Economy

Measurement is so fundamental to a modern economy it is difficult to quantify its
contribution. As the appendix examples illustrate, measurement practices are widespread. It is
estimated in Australia that total trade measurement transactions, that is commercial

transactions which required an explicit measuring, amounted to $A320b.4 It is tempting to
compare this with Australian GDP of around $A480b, but these include transactions which
occur throughout the chain of production and distribution, and so the same item (in various
stages of processing) may be measured up to seven times. An intriguing feature was that only
a fifth of the total involved final consumer transactions, so that is four fifths were between
businesses or businesses and government.

One method of quantifying the contribution of measurement is to estimate the amount of
resources being used in the economic activity of measurement. This is sometimes called a
cost estimate, although that may be misleading because cost is generally seen as a penalty,
whereas the measure is presumably meant to indicate the value of metrology to the economy,
since the resources are incurred because their benefits exceed their costs.

T.J. Quinn reports that "measurement and measurement-related operations are estimated to
account for between 3 percent and 6 percent of the GDP of industrialised nations."5 If, as
seems likely, the range also applies to New Zealand, then in 1999 the country would be
spending between $3b and $6b on measurement and measurement related operations.
Although the comparisons are not quite valid, similar size industries include tourism (a 3.4
percent contribution to GDP), agriculture (5.6 percent), construction (3.6 percent) and
communications (3.0 percent).6

Because there is no measure of net output, it is not possible to accurately estimate the amount
of labour the measurement activity uses. But suppose net output is about half gross output, a
not uncommon ratio in New Zealand industrial activity. That suggests that measurement
activity employs the equivalent of around 26,000 to 52,000 full time workers (say 1 to 2
million hours per week). This, of course, is not the number of workers actually involved in the
activity, since most of those who are spend only part of their time directly measuring. The
number involved at some time in their working day is far larger.

One further indicator of the economic significance of measurement was that between 1970
and 1976 New Zealand, like some other countries at around this time, went through a process
of metrication whereby the traditional "imperial" system" was replaced by the "international"
(or metric) system of weights and measures. The seven-year timetable was to reduce the cost
of the transformation. There seems to be no estimate of the total cost. Even so, one is unlikely
to include the discomfort to individuals of changing the measurement system they grew up
with, and some older people still have difficulty with the new-fangled measures (often not
having an intuitive feel about their magnitude). One might justify the change by arguing that
the metric system is intrinsically simpler and more efficient than the imperial system but,
instructively, the justification for the decision to change "was based almost entirely on the
necessity to keep in steps with overseas trading partners."7 It was international rather than
domestic commerce which forced the requirement on New Zealand.

In summary, there is no doubt that the measurement activity is of considerable economic
significance, whether it is assessed by that which takes place at the individual work place, by
the value or equivalent employment in New Zealand output, or by the nation's willingness to
disrupt habits of a millennia to convert to a better system of measurement.

Metrology as Infrastructure

Any well functioning economy has an infrastructure of social institutions (as well as its
physical infrastructure) which are integral to its effective functioning. These include:

- a governance of the country;
- human rights;
- a legal system, of law, courts, and enforcement;
- a metrological system;
- a statistical system;
- a system of land (and other resource) ownership, identification, and registration;
- a system of property rights;
- a system for the provision of a sound medium of exchange (money).

These elements of the infrastructure are so integral, they tend to be taken for granted in
economic analysis. While it is possible to calculate the cost of administering them to the
economy, it is not possible to value them, for economic value arises from their very existence.
Without them, the rest of the economy would have markedly less value.

This social infrastructure might be thought of as the foundations of the economy. Like the
base of a building they are ignored by all but a tiny proportion of users, yet their security and
prosperity rests on the adequacy of those foundations.

Undoubtedly, and as demonstrated in earlier sections, the metrological system is a part of this
social infrastructure. As with the other parts of the social infrastructure, it cannot be readily
valued, but its existence is crucial for an effective economy.

The International and National Infrastructure for Measurement Activity

The metrological infrastructure is set down in the following table.8 The original source
included a column about the Asia Pacific, which has been retained, without further comment,
to reinforce the importance of the international dimension in the activity.

 ACTIVITY                             INTERNATIONAL                                   ASIA/PACIFIC             NEW ZEALAND
                                      ORGANISATION                                    REGIONAL                 NATIONAL AUTHORITY
                                                                                      ORGANISATION             **
 Physical Standards of                Bureau International Poids et                   Asia Pacific             Measurement Standards
 Measurement                          Mésures (BIPM); Conférence                      Metrology                Laboratory (MSL - a
                                      Genérale Poids et Mésures                       Programme                division of Industrial
                                      (CGPM)                                          (APMP)                   Research Limited)

 Legal Metrology                      Organisation International de                   Asia Pacific             Trading Standards
                                      Métrologie Legale (OIML);                       Legal Metrology          Service (TSS - a division
                                      Comité International de                         Forum (APLMF)            of the Ministry of
                                      Métrologie Legale (CIML)                                                 Consumer Affairs)

 Documentary Standards                International Organization for                  Pacific Area             Standards New Zealand
 Development                          Standardization (ISO)                           Standards                (SNZ)
                                      International Electrotechnical                  Congress (PASC)
                                      Commission (IEC)

 Accreditation of                     International Laboratory                        Asia Pacific             International
 Laboratories and                     Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC)                Laboratory               Accreditation New
 Inspection Bodies                                                                    Accreditation            Zealand (IANZ)

 Accreditation of                     International Accreditation Forum               Pacific                  Joint Accreditation
 Certification Bodies                 (IAF); International Auditor and                Accreditation            System for Australia and
 (products, systems and               Training Certification Association              Cooperation              New Zealand (JAS-ANZ)
 quality audit personnel)             (IATCA)                                         (PAC)

* These bodies are recognized as "Specialist Regional Bodies" in the context of the APEC Committee on Trade and Investment,.... Sub-
Committee on Standards and Conformance (SCSC).

** These are governmental technical infrastructure bodies. Departmental liaison and coordination of technical infrastructure and
conformance policy is the responsibility of the Competition and Enterprise Branch of the Ministry of Commerce.

The Paris based General Conference of Weights and Measures and its International Bureau of
Weights and Measures has established a set of International Systems of Units (SI units).
There is seven basic SI units: the metre, the kilogram, the second, the ampere, the kelvin, the
candela, and the mole, from which other physical measurements are derived.

The New Zealand associate equivalent is the Measurement Standards Laboratory of New
Zealand (based in the Crown Research Institute, Industrial Research Ltd) which is the
national metrology institute. Its activities cover the full spectrum of measurement science and
technology activities from pure research, such as the measurement of fundamental constants,
to applied technology. Calibration services provide the mechanism for the physical
measurement standards maintained by MSL to be disseminated throughout New Zealand.

However, the scientific measures needs a legal underpinning, which is internationally
organised via the Paris based International Organisation of Legal Metrology (better known as
OIML, the acronym taken from its official French name). Its main objective is international
harmonisation of legal metrology. The OIML publishes recommendations and documents to
be implemented by individual nations, provides for the certification of measuring instruments,
and assists developing countries. The scope of its recommendations appear to be increasing,

to cover health, safety and the environment as well as the traditional concern of physical
products. At the end of 1998 the OIML consisted of 54 member states, and 45 corresponding
members. New Zealand is a corresponding member, which gives it an observer rather than
deliberative status. Twenty countries with lower GDPs than New Zealand are full members.9
Historically New Zealand's lower status association was determined by cost and by a
recognition that perhaps it had little specialist expertise above that of larger countries, to
contribute to the deliberations. But as OIML gets more involved in food, biological and
environmental measurement, where - as the saying goes - New Zealand punches above its
weight, and where New Zealand has vital export interests, it is appropriate to review the

The use of SI units is set out in the primary New Zealand legislation of the Weights and
Measures Act (1987) and the Measurement Standards Act (1992), although many other pieces
of legislation such as the Fair Trading Act (1986) and the Standards Act (1988) are also
important. In 1988 the primary act became administered by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs
(previously it had been with the Department of Labour as a consequence of the department's
widespread inspectorate activities). The name was changed from the "Weights and Measures
Division" to the Trade Measurement Unit which has become part of the Trading Standards
Service of the Ministry.

Documentary Standards development is internationally administered though the International
Organization for Standardisation. Standards New Zealand is the national standards authority
with responsibility for national and international standards, product certification and quality
system certification. Established in 1932, it is an independent, not-for-profit organization
governed by the Standards Council, under the Standards Act 1988.

The international supervision of laboratories and inspection bodies is managed through the
International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation program of which the International
Accreditation New Zealand is a member. It is responsible for New Zealand's national
standards and conformance infrastructure, and is the national authority for the accreditation of
laboratories, inspection bodies and other technical competence based activities.

Accreditation of products systems and quality audit is via a Joint Accreditation System for
Australia and New Zealand which operates with the International Accreditation Forum.

Below the official infrastructure is a system of private sector accredited laboratories,
inspection bodies, and system, product and personal certifiers, which transmit the
infrastructure through to businesses and other users.

Compliance Issues

Firms value their reputation and even set measurement standards at a higher level than the
statutory minima. This involves costs. On the other hand failure involves costs too. It is not
just a matter of a prosecution and the damage that could do to the businesses reputation
among consumers. Consider the situation of a supermarket in an environment where there
were no standards. Shoppers would be distrustful of the measure of their purchases, and likely
to complain. The complaints would take up the shop's time, and not be easily resolved. Shops

would in any case, therefore move to establishing their own weights and measures standards,
although conceivably different shops might use different ones (say one chain imperial,
another standard measure). Shoppers might well be confused, and competition reduced (since
many would be loath to swap chains, because of having to grapple with a new measurement
system). This would have implications for both the administration of competition law and the
education system. In contrast, one supermarket manager told me that he had but two
complaints about weights and measures in three years. Each involved a person whose home
scales proved inaccurate. The Trading Standards Service receives only a few hundred
complaints a year (fewer than the transactions a single household might make in a month),
and only a fraction is substantiated.10 People trust the existing system.

The point of this counterfactual alternative is that it does not at all follow that were there no
measurement infrastructure, the costs would be less. Arguably they would be more. That is
the danger of quoting the 3 to 6 percent of GDP figure as the costs of measurement activity to
the economy. The reality is that without incurring those costs there would be even more
economic resources involved in the related activities of self-compliance, searching and

A well-recorded example is that during the First World War parts for the Lee Enfield rifles
were produced in both the United States and Britain, and proved to incompatible, because
their standards were different. A recent one is that while Japanese carmakers design their
doors to a 1mm tolerance, US carmakers design them to only 2mm. As a result one shuts
Japanese car door, and slams US ones (although it has been argued that slamming is a positive
among American males). While quality control has a statistical rather than metrological
underpinning, without accurate measurement the quality control would impossible. Even
more recently, in October 1999, the $US240m Mars Climate Orbiter spacecraft burnt up in
the Martian atmosphere because the acceleration data for controlling its thrusters had been
provided in pounds of force (imperial units) but entered into the space craft's computer as
newtons (the SI unit).

Another need for measurement arises, where there is public intervention. A government needs
a sound measuring system in order to impose specific excise duties (on transport fuels,
alcohol, and tobacco products), as well as in the normal course of its business. Measurement
issues can be acute in international trade, as is well illustrated by difficulties with butter
exports to the EU related in the appendix.

It is true that government regulation of measurement requirements can impose costs on
businesses. Government policy is to minimize these compliance costs, although care has to be
taken in doing so they do not raise transaction costs elsewhere. While gathering material for
this report, I came across no example of businesses considering metrological compliance
requirements to be excessive. (In themselves such a complaint need not necessarily imply the
compliance costs are actually excessive when all matters are considered.) Indeed the practice
of the supermarket chain of requiring a higher standard than the law requires (see the
appendix case study), indicates that it does not think these regulations onerous. Even so, the
Trading Standards Service, which is responsible for policy, needs to be conscious of
compliance costs when reviewing or extending the regulatory framework. Ultimately,
excessive compliance requirements are a burden on the efficiency of the economy, and raise
prices to consumers.

The Public Understanding

While I have seen no survey, my impression is that the broad understanding of the public is
that somewhere or other there is something or other which ensures that the products they buy
are subject to accurate weights and measures. Their confidence is such that they rarely bother
to test this belief. That supermarkets have few weights and measures complaints, suggests that
most of its customers do not check the weight of what they buy (for a high proportion of them
must have inaccurate scales, and yet they do not complain).

Is this all the general public need to know? Perhaps having a vague confidence in the system
is sufficient if they were only shoppers. As workers, people are actively involved in
measurement as a part of their jobs. There is an increasing recognition that for a worker to
carry out a task properly (as is required by total quality management - TQM), he or she needs
a thorough background in the fundamentals of their worktasks, and not just in its operational
routines. Moreover, as appendix examples illustrate, they meet measurement problems in their
everyday non-commercial life. This suggests a need for a public understanding of metrology
somewhat higher than merely having confidence there is a government backed measurement

There is also a wider public policy issue, for while it is common to see measurement issues as
being primarily consumer ones, and perhaps secondarily among the more sophisticated
production issues (although recall that the Australian evidence suggests the balance is the
other way around), there is also the matter of international trade (which was the reason for the
metrication upheaval). More insidiously, measurement criteria have been used as a non-tariff
barrier to foreign competition. The World Trade Organization is aware of this danger, but
there needs to be a wider recognition or the WTO's efforts can be in vain.

These comments are not to be interpreted as a case for a massive public education program.
The case is more for a drip-feed approach, in which when issues of public interest arise, key
participants (including journalists) are briefed on any measurement aspect in a wider context
than just the specific issue.

Probably the most important long-term strategy is to ensure an integral part of the core
curriculum of the education system includes a basing in measurement issues. Historically,
students got some training in their mathematics, general science, home science or handicrafts
courses. But not all students now do these, and one wonders whether in any case there was
sufficient for an understanding of the increasingly sophisticated issues where metrology
touches everyday life. (For instance, the increasingly inherent problem of measurement error
in medical diagnosis - summarised in the notions of false positive and false negative.)
Additionally, teachers of specialist subjects need to include in the performance checklist
whether the course has adequately covered its measurement issues. If this sounds mundane,
the history of metrology has some spectacular illustrations of its importance - a student doing
advanced secondary school physics should revel in the metrology of the discovery of
relativity; a cooking class has the opportunity to discuss the consequences of failures in recipe
specification and interpretation; measurement in sport provides some examples, with riveting
video to illustrate them.

Issues for Further Consideration

The following issues for further consideration are in the order they are raised in this paper,
rather than in any order of importance.

1. Should the remit of the Trade Measurement Unit in the Trading Standards Services of the
Ministry of Consumer Affairs explicitly recognize metrology's importance to the external
sector of the economy?

2. Should the government review whether its role in the International Organisation for Legal
Metrology (OIML) should be upgraded from corresponding to full membership, given the
increasing importance of metrology in food, health, and environmental issues (and their
impacts on key elements of New Zealand international trade)?11

3. While there is no evidence of an unnecessary burden of compliance in regard to
metrological issues is onerous, should the Trading Standards Service explicitly acknowledge
that one of its functions is to reduce compliance costs, providing they do not add to
transaction costs elsewhere in the economy?

4. Is there a need for raising public awareness of measurement issues in the long run? The
program could include:
         - ensuring that key formers of public opinion are aware of metrological issues;
         - using news events which involve measurement issues to provide a background of
         the wider issues;
         - ensuring there is adequate coverage of measurement issues in the core primary and
         secondary curriculum;
         - expecting all specialist courses at secondary and tertiary (including vocational)
         levels to cover systematically the relevant metrological issues of the subject;
         - approaching NZQA to assist in attaining the previous two objectives;
         - by the public provision of material to assist with these objectives.

Conclusions: New Directions in Metrology

Transaction costs have been described as the friction in the economic system. 12 Because of
these costs the system operates less efficiently than it would in a world without transaction
costs. One of the functions of government policy is to reduce that friction, to - in effect - put
some oil into the machinery so it runs more smoothly.

Measurement is one of the sources of transaction costs. The metrological infrastructure is a
means of reducing those costs, of putting some oil into the system to reduce the friction that
would arise from inaccuracy and inconsistency of measurements. It is not possible to evaluate
the contribution of the engineer which supplies the lubricating oil, nor the oil itself. Clearly,
the contribution is not the same thing as the cost. Rather, we can imagine what would happen
were there no lubrication. At best the machinery might come to a grinding halt. The users
would hurry to find some oil, but because it was not designed for the particular use and
because they were not trained in its application, the machine would still function poorly.
Metrologists are among those who design and apply some of the lubricating oils for the
economic system, and ensure that it is applied as effectively as possible. Their value, like that
of the engineers with machinery oil, is incalculable. But nonetheless, it is palpable.

Metrology faces three major tasks. One is to provide its existing services as effectively as
possible at a minimum cost; the second is to move into new fields where its precise
measurement is increasingly required - almost certainly this involves New Zealand metrology
being more active internationally; the third is to link with other related professions to ensure
these first two objectives are attained. It may not be a glamorous activity, but metrology is a
conspicuous example of a government sponsored and fostered activity, where the economic
system can be made even more beneficial for humankind.

9 November 2011                                                                                Brian Easton

Committee of Inquiry into Australia's Standards and Conformance Infrastructure (1995) Linking Industry
       Globally, Australia Government Publishing Service.

Ministry of Consumer Affairs (1999) The Economic Context of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Wellington.

New Zealand Official Year Book, (various years) Department of Statistics/Statistics New Zealand, Wellington.

Quin, T.J. (1994) Metrology, Its Role in Today's World, Bureau International Des Poids et Mésures.

Statistics New Zealand (1999) Tourism Satellite Account 1997, Wellington.

Williamson, O. (1985) The Economic Institutions of Capitalism: Firms, Markets, Rational Contracting, The Free
        Press, New York.


1. The opening quotation recalls that when an empire was about to topple, the image used was that from metrology.

2. MCA (1999).

3. The other is that goods and services sold in New Zealand are safe for consumers, and are used safely.

4. Committee of Inquiry into Australia's Standards and Conformance Infrastructure (1995).

5. Quinn (1994).

6. Quinn's estimate covers gross output, whereas "contribution to GDP" is a measure of net output - gross output
from which is deducted inputs from other industries (and imports). The gross output of the "tourist industry" was
estimated at 8.0 percent. This suggests that measurement activity is about half the size of the tourist industry. (The
range is 37.5% to 75.0%.) The official estimates of sectoral size come from SNZ (1999).

7. The quotation comes from NZOYB (1982:854). A detailed account of the planned program is in NZOYB
(1970:1110-4) and various parliamentary papers. (Despite the claim of efficiency of the metric system, we should
acknowledge the linguistic merit of our forefathers' simpler "pounds", "feet", and "miles".)

8. Adapted from

9. Belarus, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Cuba, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Ethiopia, Hungary, Kazakhistan,
Kenya, Macedonia, Monaco, Morocco, North Korea, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Tunisia, Yugoslavia,
and Zambia. Some other corresponding members have large GDPs than New Zealand but, with the exception of
Iceland, Kuwait, Luxembourg, all corresponding members have lower per capita GDPs.

10. Figures for complaints in recent years are as follows:
1995-6: 327 received, 135 substantiated.
1996-7: 236 received, 98 substantiated.
1997-8: 199 received, 84 substantiated.
1998-9: 144 received, 60 substantiated.

11. The total cost of this, including membership fees and additional work and overheads, is likely to be less than
$200,000 a year shared between the Ministry of Consumer Affairs and another government agencies. This is a
small sum compared with the potential gains and losses that could affect New Zealand international traders from a
metrology which does not take their interest into consideration.

12. Williamson (1985:19).
                               APPENDIX: CASE STUDIES

The following examples are based on actual practices. As a rule the businesses are not
identified because, while they maintain high standards of management for their weights and
measures controls, their competitors are likely to be just as careful.

The Supermarket.

Early each morning one of the supermarket's shop assistants checks the accuracy of all the
scales (especially those at the checkout counters). She then weighs a set of products
designated by the head office. The law requires that up to one packet in a dozen may be short
weight by up to 5 percent, if the dozen are correct or over. However this chain requires every
individual packet to be at least the net weight.13 Not all the packaged products are checked,
but over a year each product will be checked in this supermarket at least once (if it is an
inhouse brand, four times). However the chain contains more than 52 branches, so in every
week all the relevant products are weighed across the country. If the product does not meet
the full measure, all items are removed from the shelf, the rest of the chain is alerted, and the
manufacturer-supplier is required to take action.

By law it is the manufacturer rather than the supermarket which is responsible for full weight.
Incorrectly weighed or measured goods or inaccurate weighing or measuring equipment can
be seized by a Trading Standards Officer of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, an
infringement offence notice issued, with a fee of $500 for each offence, while the Courts can
impose fines of up to $5000 for serious breaches of the Weights and Measures legislation plus
$100 a day while the breach occurs.

The supermarket does not limit itself to this daily check. It requires all staff to be given
training on weights and measures as a part of their introduction process, instaff training
courses has a section of weights and measures compliance, and the record of the training is
kept in each staff's skills development manual. There is a thirty page manual on weights and
measures, in a noticeably bright yellow binder. Once a week the supermarket's health and
safety coach checks the records of daily weighing routine to ensure they are being carried out,
while once every six months the internal auditors make a further check.

The impression this outsider obtained from talking to senior staff, is that the weights and
measures requirements are enforced more as a matter of the pride that goes with high quality
management rather than the legislation per se, although clearly they were mindful of the
consequences on their reputation, and on customer loyalty, if anything they sold was found
wanting in measurement. Their aim is their customers will have complete faith in the
reliability of their business's trading standards. One manager reported that he had had two
complaints about weights and measures in the three years he had been in charge of a very big
supermarket. In both cases the complainant's scales proved inaccurate.

Fresh Salad for a Restaurant Chain.

With a shelf life of five days, and distributing nationally to its fast food outlets from a single
plant, the restaurant chain's production of salad pottles requires careful management. Ten
percent of the batches are weighed on a scale which is checked once an hour. Once an hour
some pottles are individually weighed on a scale which is calibrated once a day. The weighing
equipment is re-certified once a quarter. (Part empty pottles are more common at the
beginning or end of a production cycle, and staff is alerted to watch for them.)

At each outlet the store manager or assistants are required to check weigh batches twice a day
on scales which are checked quarterly. The weighing is recorded in a logbook. Failing to
carry out these requirements would not necessarily lead to dismissal of the staff member,
although that option is company policy. At the very least, the failure would be recorded in
their personnel record, and could delay a promotion. Although the public does not see it, this
chain has a detailed training program for its senior staff, which includes weights and measures

Other food items in the restaurant also have their weights to be managed in a variety of ways
which reflect the particular circumstances of the food, while the temperature of the ovens is,
as in all food preparation, a matter of concern. The gauges are checked half-yearly and
manual assessments made hourly.

All restaurant chains sharpened up their weights and measures management following a
widely publicised prosecution of one. This chain told me that it found it had been previously
supplying pottles both under- and grossly over- weight. Its tighter management means that
excessive overweight is less common. The chain thinks it may have reduced the average
weight in a pottle, although the public now always gets the minimum specified weight. Thus
the chain avoids legal actions, maintains good customer relations, and reduces the costs of it
foods, by high quality weights and measures management.

Butter for the European Union Market

Butter is defined by in the Food and Agriculture Organization's CODEX Alimentarius as a
fatty product exclusively derived from milk, with a minimum fat content of 80 percent by
weight, a maximum moisture content of 16 percent by weight, and a maximum milk-solids-
non-fat of 2 percent by weight. (The rest is either fat or salt, which is generally not more than
2 percent.) Application of the definition is complicated by there being no means of directly
measuring butter fat, so that it is usually estimated indirectly as a residual. Because it is based
on milk, a biological product which varies when produced, there can be variation even within
the same lot of butter. Moreover, repeating the measure on the same sample can give different
measures, even more so if a different laboratory does it. (Thus there is no certainty that a New
Zealand laboratory's estimate of the fat proportion will be the same as that found in a
European laboratory, even from the same sample.)

Butter exports to the European Union are complicated by the requirement, among others, that
the fat content should not exceed 82 percent, effectively prohibiting the supplying of unsalted
butter. Thus butter exported to the EU has to be within the range of 80 to 82 percent fat
content. Yet the laboratory procedure generates a higher margin of error than the EU rules

imply. Practically there has had to be complex negotiations which define the sampling
regime, the laboratory test procedure and the interpretation of the measures. In particular it
has been agreed that a sample is to be considered above the 82 percent, if it exceeds that level
plus an amount known as "the critical difference" (of .17 percent). (The New Zealand
exporter will not try to push the fat content up to this 82 plus percent level, since there would
be no room for a measurement margin of error.)

It might seem this problem is a peculiarity of the EU regulations. However it could occur (and
does occur) anywhere where measurement difficulties occur, insofar as the customers (who
may be another producer using the product as an input) require a particular composition of the
product. The EU example is a very public instance of a widespread measurement problem
where there are definitional difficulties and where sampling is necessary.14

Traffic Speeds

Of all the laws, the traffic speed limits are probably those honoured most by the breach,
reflecting a tension of the community acceptance of the general principle of speed controls
and the individual's particular circumstances. Perhaps no other law involving measurement
has been subject to so many court challenges (with the possible exception of the blood alcohol
legislation). Certainly the outcome can be draconian for the convicted offender:
imprisonment, a monetary fine, loss of driving licence which may have the civil consequences
of loss of job and a declining of insurance.

There is a long history of the use of traffic radar - New Zealand seems to have invented the
device in 1946. The current speed cameras were introduced in 1993. Because the speeds they
measure are subject to court review, a system of calibration and certification has been
developed, and a court process accepted.

Calibration is not without its intricacies. The police are subject to the traffic law like everyone
else. The accuracy of the equipment needs to be verified at 150kph, by a car driving at
precisely that speed towards the device, but that speed is illegal on public roads. Fortunately,
there are private sealed roads which can be used. The story is instructive because it
demonstrates that not only do the devices have to attain specific internal performance
standards (such as the radar signal being at a particular frequency) but also the measurement
precision has to be verified in roading conditions.

Nevertheless, the speed measurement is still subject to error, so the reported speed is the
measured (actual) speed less a margin for measurement error. The Traffic Service is acutely
aware that a failure to maintain a high standard of measurement will be discovered via legal
process, and would undermine the public's confidence in the equipment, with consequent
resource costs (more court cases and more police time in courts) as well as a loss of

Blood Pressure

The measurement of a patient's blood pressure is a routine part of medical practice. High
blood pressure is a risk factor in stroke (especially), heart attack, kidney failure, and arterial
wall splitting. Medical responses to identification of high blood pressure may range from

advice to moderate life style to the prescribing of expensive (and publicly funded) drugs.

Yet, the standard measurement of blood pressure is subject to considerable inaccuracy. The
equipment is not especially accurate. (For instance, a 1990 study of home use machines found
only three of eight were acceptable and the most accurate was not widely marketed. Clinical
equipment is also subject to error.) There is considerable variation according to the user.
(Nurses can be more accurate than doctors can.) The circumstances in which they are used
can affect blood pressure (as when the measurement induces anxiety).

There is little allowance in the diagnostic and treatment procedures for the inaccuracy. The
majority of patients probably receive the correct treatment (including advice) but there is a
group, between those at serious risk and those whose levels are safe, where the blood pressure
may be misdiagnosed and the wrong treatment applied. The size of this group is not known,
nor is the cost to the patient and the nation of any inaccuracy.

Most patients would be astonished to learn that such a routine procedure was subject to such
measurement error. It is indicative of how much confidence the public has in scientific
measurement that it rarely occurs to them that the margins of error in particular cases may be
significant. Yet as science develops into new fields, measurement precision, reproducibility,
and interpretation loom large.


Sporting measurement is rarely a matter of public policy, but it is a matter of intense interest
to those involved as participants or spectators. Often accuracy is not so important. The course
of a 100 metre race at the school sports meeting may vary a metre or two without major
implications for the winning. However, once a record is claimed (even within the school, let
alone an international one), precision in course length and timing becomes important.

So as sport becomes more competitive, accurate measurement becomes more necessary. The
size (and colour) of ball affects the way a game is played. The pitch or court has to be a
reasonably standard size. (For historic reasons there are differences in the width of English
F.A. club soccer pitches, which affect the sort of game the teams play. A narrow pitch places
premium of the precision rather than the strength of the cross-kick.)

More recently, as sport has become increasingly scientific, especially with the increased use
of film and video analysis for coaching, precision of measurement of the athlete's movement
has become increasingly necessary, a matter complicated by the subject consisting of body
parts which move differently, usually in all three dimensions.

The metrological infrastructure underpins sporting measurement, despite it being in the
informal sector, outside the immediate concerns of commerce or government. New
Zealanders would be unable to claim world records without a national measurement standards
laboratory in which international sporting agencies had confidence.

9 November 2011                                                                   Brian Easton


13. Its manual states: "The law requires ... if goods of the same kind are packaged at one standard weight then one
package in 12 may be short weight by up to 5 percent, only if the aggregate of the 12 packs is correct and over.
[This supermarket chain] has made the decision that in regard to all goods, we will sell only product (i.e. each
individual product), which is at least the net weight (i.e. weight without packaging) stated on the packet. This is in
line with our business integrity." (original's emphasis)

14. Although sampling is often used in weight or length measurement to keep measurement costs down, in the case
of butter contents, measurement involves destruction of the product. Sampling is necessary, for otherwise there
would be none of the product left.

To top