CPSC Chief Wants Improved Table Saw Safety

It isn’t often that a woodworking topic makes national news, but today’s USA Today carries just such a story. While not charting a specific course of government action, CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum was quoted by the paper as saying “The safety of table saws needs to be improved in a way that prevents
school children in shop class and woodworkers from suffering these
life-altering injuries.” At the core of this discussion is the technology developed for the SawStop by its inventor Stephen Gass, who is mentioned in the article in reference to an estimate that table saw injuries cost the economy $2 billion a year.

It’s the numbers in this story that got me thinking, and I spent a few hours with a calculator and investigating where they come from. The first number is 10. That’s the number of amputations a day due to table saw accidents. That’s several thousand per year. CPSC is the source of this estimate, which comes from the Nation Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS). This is a database that comes from data submitted by about 100 emergency rooms across the county. Information reported by medical personnel is recorded and extrapolated to arrive at a national estimate. For example, 323 nail gun injuries reported in 2001 were estimated to be 14,625 actual injuries. From the link on the NEISS site, you can download the reporting manual and codes for various products and take your own look at the numbers, and you can view individual case reports to get an idea on the severity and circumstances of these injuries.

Keep in mind that the Consumer Product Safety Commission isn’t about workplace or industrial uses of table saws, these statistics, and any forthcoming regulations apply to the general population. The other number that caught my eye was the $2 billion price tag for the costs of “saw related injuries”. It isn’t clear if this is just for table saw injuries, the roughly 10% of table saw injuries that result in amputations, or for injuries from any type of saw. In any case, dividing the number of injuries into that amount leaves an incredibly steep price tag per incident. If you want to make an argument, having numbers to throw around may help your case.

This has been a divisive issue, especially since last year’s $1.5 million verdict, and the 2006 petition by SawStop’s inventor to the CPSC. Down at the end of the USA Today story is what I consider to be the most important part of this story, a link to a video about how to use a table saw without getting hurt. Yes the video comes from the Power Tool Institute, and yes PTI definitely has a dog in this fight. But if you follow the instructions in the video about how to use a table saw, your chances of getting hurt are low.

A little less than a year ago, we conducted an online survey about table saw safety, and I think it showed that table saw safety isn’t about equipment, it’s about responsibility. If you don’t know how to safely use a table saw, don’t use it until you’ve taken the time to understand how it works and how to safely work with it. Here are some good resources that are free.

Click Here for Free Articles on Table Saw Safety

Click Here for Free Video on Table Saw Safety

–Robert W. Lang

21 thoughts on “CPSC Chief Wants Improved Table Saw Safety

  1. Jim S

    Alan,

    The same mechanism is making both things happen at once. Here’s a short explanation:

    http://woodworking.about.com/od/recommendations/qt/SawStopBrake.htm

    Is there a better way? I don’t know. I’m sure the technology is turning off some potential buyers due to the chance of losing the price of a blade and braking mechanism due to a "false trigger." Hopefully, the success of SawStop in the marketplace will drive others to develop competing systems and we’ll all be better off. As an analogy, I think we would still be using 1995-era computer processors that cost $1,000 each (the processor only, not the computer as a whole) if there wasn’t an AMD to chase Intel and force down prices and improve speed by 1000s of times. In the meantime, SawStop has this market to itself. The product works very well, but its cost is steep right now.

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