On average, 10 people in the United States have their fingers amputated by table saws every day, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The regulatory agency has put its sights on power tool manufacturers to understand why so many of these horrifying injuries occur and what can be done to prevent them.
“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,” CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum told USA TODAY. “All options are on the table for CPSC at this time.”
The CPSC has met with industry leaders, including representatives from the Power Tool Institute (PTI) and developers of technology that could potentially stop the finger amputations from occurring, but specific measures have not yet been proposed.
Stephen Gass, owner of SawStop LLC and inventor of a detection system that stops saw blades when fingers and hands come too close to them, petitioned the CPSC for table-saw safety improvements years ago under the Bush Administration, but the agency never drafted rules even though the technology cost very little.
CPSC estimates table-saw related injuries cost society about $2 billion a year – a cost that is equivalent to several times the gross annual sale of saws yet borne by society in the form of economic damages.
The Power Tool Institute stated to the CPSC in 2007 that it preferred self regulation, but so far no new rules or standards are being developed that include SawStop’s technology. Critics assert that the saw-stopping technology is too costly to industry, not foolproof, and involves too many patents to be practical and feasible for manufacturers to implement.
That’s nonsense, according to Sally Greenberg of the National Consumers League, who told USA Today that “There’s a pattern of injury, a safety technology that can address it, and it’s affordable.”
Liability alone is a good reason for table saw manufacturers to adopt the safety technology. The companies are facing hundreds of personal-injury lawsuits, and at least 50 plaintiffs claim that SawStop technology could have spared their fingers. Just last March, a jury awarded a man who accidentally sawed his fingers $1.5 million after he argued that SawStop would have spared him from his debilitating injury.