We’ve all been following the lawsuit where a jury awarded a Massachusetts man $1.5 million dollars for an accident he had while using a Ryobi table saw. (Need to catch up on the story? Click here for an article in the Boston Globe, here for an article in INC. magazine about the SawStop technology and here for a piece from The Oregonian). Catching up with the case is easy, but working with the numbers, not so much.
The Oregonian reported that there are, “An estimated 700,000 table saws are in use across the U.S.” It goes on to report that “According to the Journal of Trauma, an estimated 565,670 table-saw-related injuries were treated from 1990 to 2007 in U.S. emergency rooms.” That’s an average of 33,274 injuries per year. Of those injuries, it is estimated that 10 percent result in amputation. I found that statistic alarming, and I’m willing to bet that most woodworkers did, too. Imagine what non-woodworkers might think.
The more we talked about the figures here in the office, the more we wondered if the numbers were real. I don’t intend to question the number of injuries reported. I’m sure those numbers are well documented , insurance companies are like that. But let’s look at the other number in the equation: 700,000 table saws caused more than half-a-million injuries. In 17 years, there’s nearly one injury for each table saw being used. How dangerous is this machine?
Are there 700,000 table saws in use in the United States? There must be, I read it on the Internet. In fact, I’ve already seen that same number repeated in another online write-up. Soon it will be fact! (Note of sarcasm in my voice.)
After discussing the numbers, we thought it best to talk with someone in the industry. Someone who has held a position in a number of the companies that sell table saws and other woodworking tools. Someone that has dealt with factories abroad, large chain store orders and has worked a lifetime inside the woodworking machine and tools industry. We wanted a reliable source.
In talking with this someone, we found that Sears, which back in the day was the only woodworking machine seller I knew about, sold Craftsman table saws in huge numbers. During its hey-day, the stores would sell about 50,000 contractor table saws and 150,000 benchtop saws per year. Back a few years, Delta would sell 15,000 to 18,000 Unisaw models each year, as well as 25,000 contractor saws annually. One of the large chain stores placed an order for benchtop table saws in excess of 110,000 units, and that was just for the holiday rush. These numbers don’t add up to 700,000.
If that doesn’t make the hair on the back of your neck stand at attention, take a look at this figure: There is a single factory abroad that produces 700,000 benchtop table saws every year!
I think it’s safe to say that the figure quoted in The Oregonian is not even close to accurate. When asked to provide a number as to how many table saws are in use within the confines of the United States, our source said, “Four million, maybe more.”
That certainly changes the injuries-to-table-saws ratio. Doesn’t it?