Table saw injuries cause more than 40,000 emergency room visits and 4,000 amputations each year in the U.S according to one source. Shop Safety, and, not surprisingly, table-saw safety has come to the attention of consumer advocates. Some believe a mandate for safety saw brake technology is long overdue. According to a National Consumers League spokesperson, “There is a pattern of injury, there is a technology that can address the injury and it can address the injury for a reasonable cost. The vast majority of table-saw manufacturers haven’t changed their technology in 50 years … this is a major public health and safety issue that cries out for a public policy response.”
For the do-it-yourself crowd, it is something that is (or, should be) looming in the forefront of your consciousness every time you use a table saw on one of your home improvement or woodworking projects.
The ‘Saw Stop’ Saw Braking System
Steve Gass is the inventor of Saw Stop, a mechanical safety braking system technology for table saws that seems to reduce virtually all the injuries associated with table saws. The gadget electronically detects human flesh when it comes into contact with the saw blade. To demonstrate, Gass pushes a hot dog into the spinning saw and it brakes so fast it only slightly nicks the hot dog. If it was your finger -you might require a band-aid. Probably not. The spinning blade brakes to a complete stop within about 5 milli-seconds (5-thousandths of a second). The sudden stop wreaks havoc with the ‘Saw Stop’ Saw Brake and blade -but, your finger is intact. The junk mechanism is replaceable for about $60.
While Gass and his like-minded supporters are of the opinion that power toolmakers have an ethical obligation to add the safety gadget to their saws to prevent injury, there are those who are loath to see one person’s invention mandated to be used across a wide industry. Not surprisingly, the power tool industry is of the opinion there are major problems with an imposed design requirement that mandates the use of technology patented by one company.
The cost to manufacturers for retooling and royalties would be a widespread, but a less individually devastating harm, while the injuries caused by table saws represent a more limited harm, but one that is more severe for the individuals who experience it. Both sides present a compelling case, and the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is in the process of sorting all that out to (hopefully) make a fair decision that protects consumers without hampering the industry. The CPSC believes this could be decided in the next few months, saying, “Our job is that this table saw safety does not go on the back burner the way it has been for the last 10 years.”
Meanwhile, there are some progressive saw safety manufacturers who have voluntarily adapted the SawStop system in their products. M&M Tool and Machinery is one of them. Work Safety at Home has taken a big leap forward with this technology. For all the people who safely use table saws, still, a lot of us know someone who lost a finger (or, worse) using a table saw in an unsafe manner.
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*Photo of Woodworker Brent by ‘Old Sarge’ – Doug Geisler