Over the past few weeks, the debate over proposed Consumer Product Safety Commission regulations for table saw safety has been in the news. Curiously, the reason for it being in the news wasn’t any new development; CPSC has been holding meetings with representatives from both SawStop and from the Power Tool Institute, but these meetings are part of the long, drawn out process of deciding whether or not safety mandates should be established. The debate has been in the news because it was in the news. National Public Radio covered the news on its Morning Edition program and soon other woodworking magazines and blogs were picking up the story. We chose not to cover the story at that time because there really wasn’t anything to report. No one from CPSC issued a press release, no new meetings were scheduled, and no action was taken.
The NPR story was mostly quotes from Sally Greenberg of the National Consumers League. It isn’t clear why the NCL chose to get involved in this issue, but it is clear that they are acting as an advocate for SawStop and Stephen Gass, the inventor and owner of the company. This is a complex issue, and it stirs up emotions on many levels. It clearly deserves a closer look at the details of what is going on and what is at stake, as well as a more reasoned debate. It is hard to find any good guys on either side of this story; on a small scale it represents nearly every facet of what is wrong with the way our system of corporate behavior, manipulation of the legal system and government regulation operates, as well as the way these issues are covered in the media, and the ways we as consumers react.
We’ve published more about this issue than anyone else, and we’ve tried to move past the emotional appeals and political rhetoric. We’ve looked at the statistics and arguments and tried to make sense of them, and we will continue to do so. Late last week, we received information from the Power Tool Institute, a coalition of machinery manufacturers who are against any new regulations. PTI makes the case that recently adopted UL standards have made table saws safer with minimal impact to the market place, and that anyone who wants buy a saw equipped with “flesh detecting technology” is free to do so. In the coming week, we’ll have the document we received from PTI available online. We will also have a series of blog posts that summarize this issue. We will take a look at both sides, the good and bad points from each side, and we’ll review the history of technical developments, the debate surrounding them and how this will affect the market.
When this story makes the national media, such as USA Today or NPR’s Morning Edition it’s usually cast as a story of David (Gass and SawStop) vs. Goliath (the major machinery manufacturers). But there are two sides to David and two sides to Goliath. David the woodworker came up with a great idea, but David the patent attorney has so complicated things by filing for, and being granted numerous patents that if they were enforced would grant him a monopoly if regulations are imposed. The law enabling CPSC to impose regulations however specifically prevents them from writing rules that would favor one enterprise that way, and the petition for the commission to write regulations comes from the inventor who would benefit. There are also two sides to Goliath. The manufacturers followed existing safety regulations, and have developed and applied for a patent on an alternative technology. They also were essentially the authors of the existing regulations and hid behind them for years until they were backed into a corner and developed more sensible guard systems in 2007.
So stay tuned, sign up for the RSS feed and leave your comments. You’ll be seeing more in depth reports an all these aspects of this issue in the days and weeks ahead. I’ll be looking at how this issue has evolved, where we are today and what will likely happen in the future. When there is real news on this issue, you’ll find it here.