NCL Health Issues
Table saws cause tens of thousands of serious injuries every year, costing billions of dollars.
Approximately 40,000 Americans go to hospital emergency rooms every year with injuries sustained while operating table saws. About 4,000 of those injuries – or more than 10 every day – are amputations.
Table saw injuries cost the United States approximately $2 billion every year.
Current table saw safety standards have proven ineffective in protecting consumers.
The primary technology used by the majority of table saw manufacturers to prevent table saw injuries is a plastic blade guard. This technology has remained essentially the same for over 50 years. Yet, blade guards have proved to be ineffective in reducing the 40,000 serious table saw injuries that occur every year.
Guards must be removed in order to perform many tasks on a table saw, such as cutting a notch in a board. Users find them cumbersome and many simply remove the guards from their saws. According to the most recent CPSC injury report, in approximately two-thirds of table saw injuries, the guard had been removed. And even when guards are in place, blade contact injuries can occur. The CPSC report found that almost one-third of table saw injuries occur with the blade guard in place.
Technologies exist that prevent serious injuries if a person comes in contact with the blade.
One of these technologies, called SawStop, stops the blade within milliseconds of contact to minimize injury. It is on the market already and has demonstrated its effectiveness with over 1000 finger saves. Another technology was developed by a consortium of table saw manufacturers. It retracts the blade within milliseconds of contact to minimize injury. It has not yet been brought to market.
The benefits of improving table saw safety clearly outweigh the costs.
It would cost approximately $100 per saw to put automatic safety technology on every table saw sold in the United States. According to Dr. John D. Graham, head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for President George W. Bush, an average table saw equipped with an automatic safety system will deliver $753 in benefits due to reduced injuries. The $753 benefit per table saw is many times greater than the $100 cost per saw to equip table saws with automatic safety technology, which means this safety requirement would be very cost-effective. And those monetary benefits don’t even take into account the benefits of eliminating pain, suffering and emotional trauma that serious injuries impose on victims and their families.
The table saw industry is using many of the same arguments that auto manufacturers used to delay airbag requirements for 20 years. In that time, an estimated 162,000 people died unnecessarily.
In the eight years that the Power Tool Industry (PTI) has been opposing automatic safety technology for table saws, an estimated 320,000 serious table saw injuries have occurred, including 32,000 amputations.
The PTI argues:
- The requirement would be too costly.
But statistics show that it is cost-beneficial to prevent 40,000 serious injuries every year with this proven technology. Auto manufacturers also argued that airbags would be too expensive for many cars and that consumers would not want to spend more money for the additional safety.
- Blade guards work if people will use them.
Blade guards must be removed for many kinds of cuts made on a table saw, so they cannot be used all the time. Automatic safety devices on table saws, in contrast, can be used for virtually every cut of wood and other non-conductive material. Also, people don’t use blade guards because they are cumbersome and often interfere with the work. Automatic safety devices, in contrast, are invisible to the user and they don’t interfere with the work.
Automobile manufacturers argued that seat belts were sufficient to protect drivers and passengers. Airbags and seat belts are similar to automatic safety devices and blade guards. Many people don’t use seat belts. And unlike seat belts, airbags are automatic devices that are invisible to the user and they don’t interfere with the operation of the car.
And just like airbags and seat belts, the safest way to operate a table saw is to have both an automatic safety device AND a blade guard.
- If consumers want to pay extra for safety, they can buy the safe table saw that is now on the market.
It is wrong to say that consumers will pay more if safer saws are required because society is already paying $2 billion per year due to preventable table saw injuries. Society will save money if safer saws are required. In addition, safety should not be available to only those who can afford it. What if we sold cars with seat belts and airbags only to those who could afford them? Or only made safe food and water available for those who could pay for it? Safety shouldn’t only be for the affluent. All members of society have a right to expect that the products they use will be safe.
It is time for the Consumer Product Safety Commission to act quickly to enact a performance standard that would require table saws to mitigate injuries when blade contact occurs or is about to occur. Table saws that would meet such a performance standard are already operating successfully in the marketplace; the benefits far outweigh the costs; and injuries have not been reduced under the current voluntary safety standard. Every day of delay means another 100 serious injuries – that is too high a price to pay.