Last week’s table saw safety survey generated a lot of interest and numerous responses. Around 6,000 participated and shared their experiences. Before we look at the results of the survey, a few words about the survey are in order. As many commenters pointed out, this was not a “scientific” survey.
With a sample of people who opted to participate, rather than a random sample, the data collected can’t be used to determine the chances of having an accident while using a table saw, nor can it be used to calculate the number of accidents likely to occur compared to the number of table saws in use. That wasn’t the goal. What we were after was a sampling of our readers, their experience in using saws, the type and severity of injuries they suffered and what safety equipment was or was not in place. We won’t be listing specific numbers; you’ll see the results in terms of about, nearly, most and some.
We last paid for a scientific study of our subscribers in 2005, and the percentages of readers who owned table saws and the number of years experience they have is in line with the results of the blog survey. The paid survey was about marketing our publication not about safety, so there were no questions about accidents to refer back to. Our motive in last week’s quick survey was to learn more about our readers and their experiences, not to sell anything, please or antagonize any advertisers, former advertisers or would-be advertisers. So here is what we know about those who took part in the survey:
Most of you own and use a table saw. A little more than half of you own a contractor’s or hybrid type saw, and almost a third have a 3hp or larger cabinet saw. Around 10 percent have a benchtop or portable saw, and less than 2 percent of those who responded have no table saw at all. Beginners were a distinct minority, less than 10 percent have only a year or two experience, about 30 percent have two to five years, and most of you have been using a table saw for five years or more. You’re a serious and experienced bunch; you have a significant investment in your machines, but the majority own middle-of-the-road machines.
And a lot of you have hurt yourselves with your table saws, about one in seven of those responding reported an injury serious enough that it required medical treatment. Here is where the statistically flawed sample of the survey shows up, and it makes sense to us that those who had been injured would be more likely to respond. Tangling with a table saw leaves a lasting impression, especially if, like me, you have a funny looking finger that you still notice 35 years after the fact.
When we wrote the survey, we gave three options for types of injuries: Being struck by something kicked back from the saw, having a hand or other part of the body come into contact with the blade as a result of a kickback, or moving your hand into the path of the blade.
There were other responses we didn’t anticipate, saws accidentally being turned on while changing a blade or checking the height of the blade, and one reader who, when he was 10 years old, stuck his fingers into the back side of a running blade, figuring it was the other side that did the cutting. Many of the injuries reported seemed mild to us. As a group you’re either very lucky (the curious 10-year-old reported that his bruised backside as a result of his mom seeing his wounds later in the day was more painful than his cut fingers) or we didn’t make it clear what we were looking for. We didn’t intend to count knuckles scraped during a blade change or a nick in the end of a push stick as table saw accidents, but some of our respondents did.
The good news is that most of the people responding have not had an accident at all, or at worst, what we termed a “close call” without an injury. Of those who did report an injury, slightly more than half didn’t require medical attention beyond first aid at home. Of the accidents that couldn’t be treated at home, three out of four were repaired with bandages or stitches. On the other hand, about one of five of reported injuries requiring treatment resulted in the loss of one or more fingers. Hands and fingers weren’t the only parts of the body to suffer; there were also injuries to eyes and soft tissues. Being in the way of a piece of wood kicked out of the saw left one reader without a spleen, and another missing a testicle.
We asked what safety equipment was in place when the injury occurred, and in about three out of four cases none was present. It would be easy to jump to a conclusion and say, “See, if you’d only left the guard on this wouldn’t have happened.” But there isn’t much evidence that guards or other safety devices can actually prevent accidents; their main purpose is to mitigate the damage after the operator loses control of the workpiece or places his or her hand in the path of the blade. About 10 percent of the reported injuries were on saws that were equipped with the stock splitter and guard, or a riving knife and guard. The severity of those injuries, including the loss of digits was within a percentage point of those injuries that occurred on saws without any safety equipment in place.
The frightening part of this survey was the number of table saw users who accept kickback as “something that happens” or simply weren’t paying attention to where their hands were, or where their hands might go if something went wrong while operating their saw. Moving the hand into the path of the blade was the most commonly reported cause of injury, accounting for six in 10 injuries. Three in 10 injuries were related to material kickback, either being struck by the material or having the hand pulled into the path of the blade.
In the October and November 2008 issues of Popular Woodworking, we printed articles on using a table saw safely, and on preventing kickback, written by Marc Adams, owner of the largest woodworking school in the country. We have decided to make those articles, as well as Marc’s safety rules for using the table saw available online. Look for links to those articles in a blog post to follow.
The one question I wish we had asked was this:
Looking back on your injury, what could you have done differently to prevent the incident from happening?
If you’ve had an injury while using your table saw, leave a comment if you would like to answer that question.
–Robert W. Lang