Weighbridge Project

14th Jun 2011

Introduction

Aim:
The importance of this project is to show weighbridge accuracy and the impact errors can have on the environment, cost to businesses and local authorities. In particular, it is designed to ensure that local authorities have robust information relating to landfill tax and recycling targets.

Previous Projects:
Four previous reports have reinforced the inconsistency linked to weighbridges. Firstly, the Yorkshire and the Humber Region's survey report (2009) indicated a 21% failure rate of tested equipment with the maximum error being 120kg, similarly Section 70 returns for 07/08 showed a 50% inspection rate and 8% of inspected instruments were found incorrect and given 28 days notice. Project Snapshot (NWML) revealed 26% of equipment needed further action and 20% lacked accuracy. 54% of equipment, which required further action, was being used 30-150 times per week. Weighbridges have been listed as likely to fail with a very high impact on individuals.

The Retail Perceptions of Weights and Measures Legislation Report (Vanilla research) stated that inconsistency across Authorities, perceived lack of expertise among inspectors and lack of clarity around legislation are the current difficulties when it comes to weighbridge testing. 

Impact of incorrectly used equipment:
Incorrect weighing equipment used at landfill sites, transfer stations and recycling centres will have a direct impact on local authorities: Local Authorities pay landfill tax which is presently £56/tonne and set to escalate at £8 per year per ton until 2013. If the failure rates of weighbridges found in the studies above were indicative of the general failure rate, the total tax paid by local authorities may be inaccurate by an equivalent amount.

It must also be remembered that the recycling targets that all local authorities must meet are determined by weight. If the targets are to be properly measured we must be confident that the weighing equipment used to determine those targets is accurate.

These specific matters for local authorities relating to the use of weighbridges at landfill sites, transfer stations and recycling centres should be seen in the context of the effect of inaccurate weighbridges use for all applications; overloaded lorries lead to an increased damage to road surfaces and bridges which in turn leads to a higher expenditure on road maintenance.

Method

It was decided to replicate the idea behind the medical weighing project as this had been demonstrated to be successful. This would mean that the project is completed over a two-year period. A survey would be carried out in year one and would be repeated in the second year to discover whether there had been any improvement in the level of compliance.

There was a strong awareness of the cost of undertaking weighbridge inspections.  It was anticipated that the most likely way that the largest number of authorities would be encouraged to become involved would be to reduce the cost to local weights and measures authorities as much as possible. To that end, it was hoped that the project would dovetail with those authorities that were already undertaking inspections. There would be no expectation for authorities that were not or did not normally involve themselves in the inspections of weighbridges to do so.

It was expected that a questionnaire would be completed at the time of the inspection. It was intended that the questions would reveal specific information that would help to understand the level of compliance relating to weighbridges in the market sector being considered. The rationale behind the questions is considered below. The completed sheets were then forwarded to the metrology policy officer for collation of the results and completion of the report.

The Questionnaire

The following is a commentary on the questions.

1) Details: These questions are intended to record the location of the weighbridge and the inspector that carried out the verification.

2) Usage: These questions are intended to discover the regularity and weight of transactions completed on the bridge, and to attempt to assign a monetary value to those transactions. It was not expected that officers would spend a lot of time so it is assumed that these figures would at best be an estimate of the true values.

3) Accuracy: These questions are attempting to find out not just whether the weighbridge was outside of its legal tolerance, but also the degree of inaccuracy. When this is combined with the value of the goods weighed, it is hoped to be able to assign a monetary cost to any inaccuracies discovered.

This section also attempted to ascertain if inspectors are examining the instrument for compliance with type approval certificates. It is felt that many of the contraventions in relation to equipment often relate to compliance with technical specifications. It was felt to be useful to discover if inspectors were checking technical specifications, and if they were not, why not?

This section also attempted to gain some idea of the condition of the weighbridges.

4) Actions completed on site: This section recorded what actions the inspector carried out on site.

5) Testing: This section was attempting to ascertain if the weighbridge was regularly calibrated and serviced. It was then hoped that any relationship between the accuracy of the weighbridges and a regular service contract.

6) Further actions/actions completed on site. This was an attempt to resolve what actions were taken to complete the visit.

Results

The LG Regulation policy officer collated the results and the following points were noted:

1) There were 352 weighbridges at landfill and recycling centres tested. 262 were found to be within the legal tolerance and 90 were found to be outside of the legal tolerance. This equates to approximately 25.5% of weighbridges being outside their legally allowable tolerance.

2) The type approval certificate was checked for 36% of weighbridges and found to be compliant. There were no recorded instances of instruments not complying with TAC's and 45% were not checked. The form was not completed for 18% of the inspections. It is not clear why they were not checked, and we would be unable to draw conclusions as to whether the instruments that were not checked were in compliance with the TAC.

Conclusions

The report would like to make the following conclusions:

1) It was disappointing to note that 25% of weighbridges in the test were found to be outside of the legal tolerance prescribed by law. This is a large number and it should be stressed that it is an increase on the level found in earlier surveys.

Such a high level of non-compliance has an adverse effect on all economic operators within the market place.

In the year 2008/9, councils sent 13.8 million tonnes of waste to landfill. The cost for local authorities for the landfill tax alone may be as much as £994 million by 2013 and this will be determined by the use of weighing equipment up to 25% of which will be inaccurate by, on average, 210 kg and, it must be remembered, being used illegally.

This in turn has caused a reduction in the confidence of the accuracy of the amount that local authorities are being charged for landfill tax.

In conjunction with this, councils will also soon face a potential fine of up to £150 for every tonne of rubbish that is land filled above the set amount.

It must be remembered that these figures relate just to the landfill tax, there will also be an equivalent inaccuracy in the cost of the landfill.

This will in turn be reflected in higher council tax charges to the residents of those local authorities.

2) It was also disappointing to note that compliance with the type approval of the instruments was only checked in 37% of inspections. It is not possible to ascertain why this may have been the case, but it is suggested that an inability for local authority officers to gain access to the appropriate technical information is most likely to be the cause.

It must be remembered that the accuracy of the instrument is only part of the check for compliance and checking the technical aspects of the instrument is an equally important part of the process.

All manufacturers bear a cost of compliance with all aspects of the legislation. It can be demonstrated that the legitimate manufacturers are suffering an economic detriment as result of cheaper non-compliant instruments being placed on the market. It is incumbent on the inspection authorities to ensure that the market place is operating fairly and to ensure that all aspects of the instrument are checked.

Ian Turner

Tel: 07581 499244  Email: technical2@ukwf.org.uk

14 June 2011

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