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Gas pumps are in good hands

November 27, 1995

State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - If you happen to see Steve Wadley and John Albert at work at your neighborhood gas station, you might not realize they're working to protect both your pocketbook and your safety.

Dressed in jeans, you might mistake them for typical gas station attendants.

But they're not. They're inspectors for Missouri Agriculture Department's Weights and Measures Division.

And their job is to make sure those gas pumps are safe and are giving you all the gas for which you will pay.

Wadley and Albert are investigator trainers for the Weights and Measures Division.

Five days a week, Wadley and Albert visit various gas stations in central Missouri to make sure the gas pumps register what they should, as well as check to make sure the stations are operating safely so you don't get hurt.

"The most important part of our inspection is safety and devices. Missouri regulates electrical wiring, fire impact valves, all the way down to warning signs and things like that," Albert said.

The department is required by a mandate to check for accuracy once every six months. This means every station should be checked twice a year.

Albert said Missouri is one of only two or three states with inspections for safety. "Most others are strictly weights, so we're kind of unique in that way," Albert said.

Wadley and Albert are among 20 inspectors covering the entire state.

With about 51,000 stations in Missouri, they must together check a total of 102,000 stations every year, said Ron Hooker, program administrator for the weights and measures division.

These inspectors have assigned regions where they look for accuracy of the gas pump, as well as inspect for safety, said Hooker.

"We don't get a full two terms around," said Hooker. "With the entire staff together, we do about 85,000 a year, which is a little short on the rechecks."

But one reason inspectors don't always get to recheck stations is because these inspectors only find about 3 percent of stations in violation of safety codes and pump inaccuracy.

Hooker said while Missouri's rejection rate is low, these stations can take up an inspector's time because the inspector must go back to the rejected stations to make sure they are correcting the problem.

"Sometimes the safety inspection is more important than the accuracy," said Albert. "If there is a safety violation, we could just take the device out of service all together if we feel it poses a hazard."

The inspectors have many variants when they check a station. Gas storage tanks, the number of gas pump hoses, and how busy the station can affect the time the inspector takes at each station, said Wadley.

"It's a small percentage of people who drag their feet and we have to use enforcement," said Wadley. "Usually, they do work well with us."

And what happens to the stations that don't comply with Missouri's regulations?

If the station doesn't meet all the standards, a report will be filed with an assistant attorney general and an informal hearing will take place which can lead to a fine, Albert said.

"We like to use a little bit of common sense and be reasonable on a time frame for things to be repaired." Wadley said. "We'll work with (the station) as long as they're going in the right direction."

"We really have a good relationship with them as regulators. We're really kind of proud of that." Albert said.

With only a few stations in the state that don't comply with Missouri's standards, the inspectors are happy with the small percentage of problems.

"I would just assume that all stations would be in compliance," Albert said.

"The rejection rate is very low and most (stations) are accurate," said Hooker.

Wadley and Albert agreed.

Not only does the inspection team check to see if gas stations are giving you less than what you pay for, but also checking to see if you, the customer, are getting more than what the gas pump registers.

"We are here to protect both parties," said Hooker. "We must protect the buyer and the seller."

"To us, consumer safety is number one, of course consumer protection is very important. But without the safety, we might not be here," said Wadley.