By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
Just before Thanksgiving, NCL wrote to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to ask that the Commission set a safety standard for table saws. Table saws are used by hobbyists, shop students, woodworkers, and carpenters to cut wood and other products. They are critical equipment for those who work with wood and other products, but they have inherent dangers that have been documented by the CPSC: 3,000 people each year suffer amputations (10 people suffer finger amputations each day). The average per-accident business cost is estimated to be $67,000. Each year, 30,000 people suffer injuries from table saws.
Seven years ago a company called SawStop, which has developed safety technology to stop the saw blade when it detects electrical impulses given off by a finger or other body part, filed a petition with the Commission asking that the Commission adopt safety technology throughout the industry. The CPSC has yet to act on that petition or set a safety standard for table saws.
NCL’s letter says, in part: “The technology exists – and indeed is being used today by one manufacturer – to prevent the needless and brutal accidents associated with the hazards of using table saws. These involve amputations of fingers, including potentially those of teenage students working with table saws in woodworking classes.
While this petition languishes before the Commission, with no action taken by previous CPSC officials, every day 10 ten new amputations associated with the use of table saws occur! According to CPSC’s own data, a table saw injury occurs once every nine minutes. Table saws sold in the United States are currently required to meet UL Standard 987 for Stationary and Fixed Electric Tools, but this standard does little to prevent the amputations and injuries described above.
The hazards posed by table saws are unacceptable, especially when we have the means to prevent these accidents.
In this regard, NCL strongly urges the Commission to take action toward a performance standard for table saw safety, to give the industry a specific time period in which to adopt current technology or develop new technology to prevent grave injuries and amputations from table saws. The benefits of a performance standard include allowing for innovation and creativity in the design of a table saw with these safety components built in.
Table saw safety – and the ability of CPSC to take action to protect users of table saws– seems to us to be a classic example of how the Commission’s role was envisioned by Congress when the CPSC was established in 1972. While table saws do have certain inherent hazards, that is not an excuse for failing to enact safety regulations for these products. There are many products, such as lawnmowers and ATVs, which are inherently dangerous and yet are still regulated by the Commission. And because we now have the technology to prevent those hazards and the pain, suffering, and cost that goes along with any pattern of human injury from a hazardous product, the Commission should take action.
We hope the NCL letter will provide an impetus for the Commission to act. When technology exists to prevent injury, if a pattern of injury exists and if the cost is reasonable to implement injury prevention technology, we believe the CPSC should move forward to set an industry standard for safe design.