Safer saws would prevent injuries and $2 billion annual loss – National Consumers League

By Christiana Oatman, NCL Communications intern

Christiana Oatman is a native Californian and a rising senior at University of the Pacific, where she studies history and gender studies. She is the Communications intern at NCL. Her internship is part of the Fund for American Studies’ Institute of Political Journalism program at Georgetown University.

I recently had the opportunity to watch National Consumers League Executive Director Sally Greenberg testify on a panel at the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) budget hearing on June 20, 2012 to propose that the CPSC implement tougher safety standards on table saws, ATVs, and other dangerous products frequently used by American consumers. Greenberg urged the CPSC to dedicate staff, money, and resources to finalize a mandatory safety standard.

NCL, along with other consumer organizations, requested in October 2011 that the CPSC consider enacting “a technology-neutral performance standard that would require manufacturers to equip table saws with safety devices that would mitigate injury when the operator comes in contact with, or in close proximity to, the spinning blade.” Multiple forms of safety technology exist, but only one, SawStop, is currently on the market.

Tens of thousands of accidents involving table saws happen every year, including ten finger amputations a day. According to the NCL, “These injuries cost society well over $2 billion every year.”

For the past 50 years, the only safety technology on table saws was the blade guard. The blade guard is often removed because it is inconvenient for many types of cuts. Two thirds of table saw injuries reported were without a blade guard. Updated technology does not create the same hurdles that the blade guard does. The average cost for adding newer safety technology on a table saw is $100, which is cost-effective compared to the potential medical and emotional costs of a table saw accident.

The Web site Fine Woodworking has a table saw safety guide to prevent as many accidents as possible. It recommends that you never use a table saw tired or under the influence, wear gear to protect your eyes and ears and use a riving knife and push sticks. Many table saw safety tips are designed to prevent kickback, when a piece of stock moves towards you, which is one of the most common causes of table saw injuries. Fine Woodworking recommends that you use a blade guard, but also notes that blade guards cannot be used for every cut. Even with all these precautions, accidents do happen and some could have been prevented by the new technology.

As one of the three interns who watched Greenberg’s testimony, I found her arguments convincing, as did the CPSC members who responded and asked her questions. Greenberg and the CPSC members were very sympathetic to those who have been injured by table saws, and hopefully Greenberg’s persuasive skills will lead to a progressive change in CPSC policy.