Proposed Safety Rules for Table Saws – Your Comments Requested

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is currently considering requiring “active injury mitigation” (AIM) technology on all table saws that, writes the Power Tool Institute (PTI) in a press release, would more than double the costs of these products. PTI is concerned that the price increase would make a table saw out of reach for many consumers, and contribute to job losses if makers are as a result able to sell fewer table saws, and is working to block the legislation.

You can read the PTI commentary on its website, and send a comment to the CPSC through the Institute’s website. (The deadline for public comment is July 26, 2017.)

The CPSC is concerned with protecting users from an estimated annual 33,400 table saw injuries (those numbers are from emergency-room treated injuries in 2015, as stated in the CPSC proposal summary: “Safety Standard Addressing Blade-contact Injuries on Table Saws.” Of those 33,400 injuries, CPSC staff estimates that 92 percent are from contact with the blade.

“The proposed rule would establish a performance standard that requires table saws, when powered on, to limit the depth of cut to 3.5 millimeters when a test probe, acting as surrogate for a human body/finger, contacts the spinning blade at a radial approach rate of 1 meter per second (m/s).”

You can read the proposal in its entirety and submit comments directly to CPSC by clicking on the link, or submit comments by post to:
Office of the Secretary
Consumer Product Safety Commission
Room 820
4330 East West Highway
Bethesda, MD 20814
Written correspondence must include the Docket No. CPSC-2011-0074

Again, the deadline for public comments is July 26, 2017.

Voluntary safety standards – riving knives and modular blade gaurds – were adopted for all new table saws in January 2014 and January 2010, respectively, but became widely adopted on all new models by 2008.

Note that only two manufacturers, SawStop and Bosch, offer AIM on saws – that is, technology that detects flesh then stops or retracts the blade. But in 2015, SawStop filed a patent infringement case against Bosch and currently, there is an injunction limiting import to the U.S. of the German company’s AIM-equipped saws. Bosch has filed an appeal, but a final determination has not yet been made. So in essence, at the moment, if the rule is adopted the technology employed will be that protected by SawStop’s patent. (SawStop was recently acquired by TTS Tooltechnic Systems, the parent company of Festool.)

I can see pros and cons to this proposed rule – and I’m a living example of the dilemma. I have an older-model Delta Unisaw – no AIM technology. I am hyper-aware every time I use it that I’m putting my fingers at risk and consequently, I’m extremely careful. But the price was right.

I can’t afford a SawStop right now. But when I can, I will replace the Unisaw with a 1.75 hp SawStop “Professional Cabinet Saw.” So it’s my vintage cabinet saw or nothing. Without it, I’d be doing all my ripping and crosscutting with a track saw or by hand – doable, but not ideal, especially when rehabbing a house.

So I necessarily fall into the camp of assuming personal responsibility. Would I like to work more safely with the added protection of AIM? Sure. I’d also like to drive a Volvo. But right now, neither are an option.

— Megan Fitzpatrick

14 thoughts on “Proposed Safety Rules for Table Saws – Your Comments Requested

  1. larry3887@gmail.com

    I am also in the “personal responsibility” camp. I am in a wheel chair from a crash in 2006. This caused me to sell my old table saw and get one on the new SawStop table saw. I was afraid every time i reached across the blade from setting position. So, I am glad the equipment is there for the people that wants it. I come from a life of construction carpenters and contractors. I have a uncle with missing fingers from a radial arm saw, and four friends that i can think of with missing fingers from table saws.

  2. woodworkjay

    I don’t know how SawStop obtained a patent on the ability to sense contact from human flesh, when I have a couple of old table lamps that turn on/off by touching them that are certainly older than SawStop is. I’m against any Government regulation, law, judicial ruling, etc that forces anybody to purchase and thereby enrich a monopoly private business.
    I certainly feel for anyone who has been injured enjoying our hobby, and count as friends, a couple of individuals missing digits. My own brother lost the end of a finger on a router table. But more government intrusion into our lives isn’t the answer.

  3. JLNorthGA

    I have an older 5 hp cabinet saw. I too am in the personal responsibility camp. Edged tools are inherently dangerous. It doesn’t matter if it a table saw or a hand saw – they can all cause injury. Use the push sticks, featherboards, riving knives and blade guards – that’s what they were made for.

    I wonder if this latest push on regulation is to get money out of the various table saw manufacturers before the Sawstop patent expires.

  4. pchast

    The only Safe approach is Personal Responsibility and Awareness. Never do that last cut. Never work tired..

    On th e other hand Sawstop has seemed to use, from the start, both Legal and Extra legal methods or approaches to build and extend a monopoly.
    By what I’ve seen in the news they have repeatedly bludgeoned their way to force feed the consumer and price equipment out of our reach. Thus they are reducing the availability of the product to the common man. Eventually this price structure will have an effect on sales and manufacturing.

    I voted no on these new requirements.

  5. Walt Akers

    I posted the following comment to the Consumer Product Safety Page:

    “While the desire to make woodworking activities safer is laudable, a significant number of tablesaw accidents likely occur among amateur/enthusiast woodworkers or contractors who don’t use their saws on a daily basis. These individuals are likely to have compact contractor’s saws which are less expensive to buy and easier to transport. These ‘portable’ saws are also likely to be less stable – merely because of their light-weight or because of where they are setup. Even so, the use of these ‘cheap’ saws is a much safer alternative than some makeshift approaches that are used to substitute for a tablesaw.

    I’ve attached some pictures of makeshift tablesaws that are routinely constructed by individuals who cannot afford to buy a commercial saw.

    By requiring this change, you will dramatically increase (in some cases, double) the cost of tablesaws. This will force new woodworkers, or those who only need a tablesaw sporadically, to cobble together their own makeshift tools – tools that have no safety features, who’s designs have not been checked by an engineer and who’s structural stability is dubious, at best. In short, by requiring this safety option to be included on all saws, you are effectively damning most non-affluent woodworkers and carpenters to use home made power tools.

    This change will put many woodworkers at dramatically greater risk than they are today.”

  6. jppierson

    What is more dangerous, the potential of the rotating blade cutting your flesh, or the potential blade failure when re-using an uninspected blade after the brake fired?

    You cannot regulate away accidents and people who knowingly fail to follow safe procedure.

    If the CPSC must regulate, then wait for the patent to expire!

  7. keithm

    Imagine where we’d be if the developer of the auto air bag surrounded it by patents and sued anyone with similar products. And wanted to have it mandated, but would double the price of a car?

  8. Billmck1

    I think the technology used in the SawStop is great, and should be available to anyone who wants to purchase it (and can afford it.) I don’t think it should be mandatory unless there is more than one source of the technology.

    The lawsuit that put this on everyone’s radar occurred when an untrained operator used the saw for something it wasn’t supposed to do. Perhaps his employer was at fault for not training him to use the equipment, but it was a major overreach to order such a large settlement against the manufacturer when the equipment was misused.

  9. Shawn Graham - wortheffort woodworking

    Gass patented the “finger detection” (not sure how he got a patent on fact that metal and flesh conduct electricity) back in 1999. I think patents expire in 17-20 years. With that just around the corner…

    SawStops a great product. Would love to own one. But I’m also excited to see what is coming around the corner that the other manufacturers aren’t talking about.

  10. David

    I am a sawstop owner and I oppose any regulation that forces this technology. There are millions of talesaw users and there are a relative few injuries. And most injuries come from either poor practices or stupidity. The simple fact is that with good practices a user can significantly reduce the risk of tablesaw injuries.

    Let us make it plain. 33K injuries in a population of somewhere over 5 million tabesaws. That is less that 1%. Lets think before we force regulation…

    Regarding monopolies – they are not illegal IF they are achieved in legal and ethical ways. Sawstop has done that by licensing its tech in a completely legal manner. Those patents will expire. And there is nothing that stops competing tech development as long as it does not infringe. One could make the argument that forcing this issue would drive more competition to make better safety systems. But we all know prices will likely not drop….

    As noted by my peer this is a personal responsibility issue. Just watch DIY for a day and you will see horrible tablseaw practices. The manufacturers have provided instructions as to the safe use of their product…ignoring them does not entitle you to compensation from our horrible tort/liability laws. Specifically (if memory serves) the user that lost his fingers in the Ryobi lawsuit was freehand cutting with no guards. That was a conscious choice to use the product in an unsafe manner….not a lack of technology.

    Whats next guards on our screwdrivers?

    Sawstop has a great product – robust, powerful and safe. But not cheap. However that does not mean that you can disrespect the power. Do you drive with no seatbelts? You can still have kickback even with a riving knife – just like a regular saw. A Delta, Powermatic or Ryobi can be perfectly safe with good practice and a few small additions. (i.e. anyone can add a splitter)

    Bottom line, requiring a company to implement features in a free market is unethical and anti-competitive. The simple fact is if the market wants the safety features – as seen by people flocking to Sawstop – then the features will surely arise on competing products or they go out of business. This is economics 101.

  11. captainjack1024

    I am not opposed to safety standards, but I am very opposed to monopolies. A law that in effect requires everyone purchasing a tool to buy it from one company when there is viable competitions bother me a lot. Monopolies lead to elevated prices, which will lead to people circumventing the rules (Watch that new video channel to make your own saw at home from a washing machine! Or some such. So much for regulation…) I’ve submitted my thoughts to the CPSC; thank you for sharing the link.

  12. roccaways

    Why stop with AIM? A sliding table (sometimes called European table saw in my local market) makes the saw safer compared to all (most?) included miter gauges I’ve seen. Other changes I’ve seen suggested implemented on European saws but not common in North America are shorter rip fences.
    I only raise these suggestions because there are cheaper ways that also make the saws safer. Education is probably the biggest limitation I see. What about chronic issues like dust collection? Probably many more issues around that in woodworking shops.

    If I were starting over I’d probably try to save for a Saw Stop (contractor), but they only had the professional contractor saw at the time and had to be imported from the manufacturer directly to Canada. But I think I’d take a close look at a European sliding table saw model as well (I have a friend who has one). I went with Ridgid for the record, which was a great option at the time for features (granite [pro- for me at least], riving knife, left tilt, cast trunions etc.) and price (i.e. not $5K). For now, I’m finding I have greater need for a band saw and am actively looking to be rid of a table saw I haven’t turned on in two years. So make table saws more expensive and perhaps more will invest initially in band saws and track saws and put off table saw purchases or be like me and find they can make do with out.

    I’ll also offer this Popular Woodworking link that lists some of the differences in US/North America and European table saw standards from the time of publishing in 2007.
    http://www.popularwoodworking.com/article/what_you_dont_know_about_european_saws

  13. pmac

    I’m in the personal responsibility camp. I do wonder if you or I will be able (“allowed”) to sell our old deltas when we want to upgrade.

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