Note: Executive editor Robert W. Lang was quoted in this article in USA Today.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has issued a new report on table saw injuries, and the report is available online. It should be noted that this is a report by an engineering psychologist about how consumers interact with two things: the new style table saw guards and the SawStop braking system. The commission is likely to decide in the next few months whether or not to require “flesh-detecting technology” on table saws, as petitioned by SawStop. The report is well worth reading, as it sums up what table saw guards can and cannot do, and takes a look at the braking system.
The report offers a comparison of guards vs. brakes. Perhaps the most important point is this: Even the best guard can’t protect you if you let your attention lapse and put your hand under the guard as you’re pushing the stock into the blade. That seems almost too basic to be mentioned, but a lot of table saw accidents happen that way. Guards don’t exist to keep you from doing something you shouldn’t, they exist to mitigate the damage if and when you do. I wrote about the new guards when they first appeared in 2007.
The report also presents a discussion of the SawStop system, as tested by the CPSC staff. This system is actually a bit further down the line than guards when it comes to keeping you safe. The brake system is considered to be a secondary safety device; if something goes wrong and the guard doesn’t protect you, the brake will minimize the damage. One of the “human factors” that isn’t addressed in the report is this question: Are SawStop users more likely to take risks while using their saws? Statistically, SawStop owners make contact with the blade about three times as often as users of other saws, and this thread on SawMill Creek tells the story of one user’s kickback accident.
Two other items I found interesting in the report:
In a footnote at the bottom of page 15 is this reference to an alternative “flesh-detecting” technology:
“In a meeting with Commission staff in June 2011, the Power Tool Institute discussed and showed video footage of their technology, which also retracts the saw blade upon detecting blade contact with the skin. According to the Power Tool Institute, SawStop has stated that this system likely will infringe SawStop’s patents.”
And throughout the report, reference is made to this article from Popular Woodworking Magazine by Marc Adams. In the article, Marc details the forces at work as various cuts are made and how to make them safely. Let’s face it, table saws are dangerous – but nearly all of the danger can be eliminated if you learn safe procedures, are zealous in following them and devote your undivided attention to what you’re doing when you operate a table saw.