The technology to improve the safety of table saws has existed since at
least 2002, but most of the large power tool companies refuse to use it.
Stephen Gass, who has a doctorate in physics and a law degree, invented
a simple system for stopping a table saw blade before it could cause potential
injury to the person using it. He built the saw-stopping device with a
few parts from his local Radio Shack. His invention works by running a
small electrical current through the saw blade. When the saw blade comes
into contact with human flesh, the body absorbs the current, which activates
a spring, jamming an aluminum wedge into the teeth of the saw blade. This
process is so fast that there is very little injury to the human hand.
Annually, more than 67,000 people are injured by table saws and of those
more than 4,000 are amputations of one or more fingers, according to the
Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The CPSC estimates that these
accidents total more than $2.3 billion in medical bills, lost wages, pain,
and suffering each year. Common sense would dictate that all the table
saw manufacturers would be rallying behind this new technology, but that
is not the case. In fact, selling dangerous table saws has been a great
defense for the power tool industry. “Table saws cut wood and if
you’re not careful they will cut you too.”
An estimated 9.5 million table saws have been sold to carpenters, construction
workers, and do-it-yourselfers in the U.S. alone. Of the nearly 500,000
table saws that are sold every year, 85 percent of them are made by members
of the Power Tool Institute, a lobby group that represents Black &
Decker, DeWalt, Makita, Skil, Bosch, and Ryobi. There is one table saw
on the market currently available to consumers that has a finger-saving
technology, it is the SawStop Brand, that Stephen Gass patented.
CPSC Says Blades Are Major Hazards
With all the injuries associated with table saws, the industry leaders
should be praising the day a device like the SawStop was created, but,
in fact, they refuse to incorporate it into their convention table saw
lines; they are actually trying to stop SawStop from being sold to the
general public. The power tool giants are terrified that if they used
the proven hand-protecting device, they would be opening themselves up
to thousands of lawsuits from their conventional table saws. This is simple
cost-benefit analysis, using tortured reasoning.
It might be expected for these companies to argue that it would be impossible
for them to add a $50 part to a $100 table saw. That is not the problem
here. The problem is, they do not want any safety standards applied to
table saws. These saws are inherently dangerous, and they do not want
to defend themselves if higher standards are established under consumer
protections. Currently, they are adhering to a voluntary, self-imposed
safety standard, which requires every table saw to have a hood over the
saw blade. This hood never stops a person’s hand from being injured
by the saw. In truth, most of the time the hood is removed by the consumer
because it hinders their view and makes it difficult for skilled artisans
to make precise cuts. Of course, once the ineffective hood is removed,
the manufacturers, via their insurance attorneys, argue the saw was safe
when they made it and was altered by the owner. Case Closed!
The SawStop received the top prize for technological advancement at the
2000 International Woodworking Fair and with it, got the attention of
members of the Power Tool Institute. Gass was confident that the industry
would adopt his invention and be enthusiastic about preventing thousands
of injuries every year. He was mistaken.
The SawStop was also awarded a Chairman’s Commendation from the head
of the Consumer Protection Safety Commission (CPSC) in 2001 because the
prototype was so impressive, and they knew it would be safe for table
saw consumers. In 2003, SawStop, with the support of more than 300 woodworkers
and shop teachers, requested the CPSC to begin the rulemaking process
toward safer saw technology. After many years of pressure from the Power
Tool Institute, nothing has happened.
Even without the CPSC, the SawStop has been very effective at changing
the outcome of many lawsuits and settlements involving injuries by table
saw blades. The fact that the technology exists and that the other manufacturers
refuse to use it, has helped many people get the compensation they deserve.
Unfortunately, they could have saved their hands if safety standards had
SawStop Had “Monopolistic Advantage”
The CPSC is still attempting to apply some standard to the table saw industry.
However, they are continually getting push back from the Power Tool Institute,
who now claims that any attempt at making federal safety regulations would
give SawStop a monopolistic advantage. SawStop has now had years to perfect
their technology and are the proud owners of many federal patents to prove
it. Ironically, Gass approached the Power Tool Institute and its members
in the beginning to beg them to use the SawStop technology. When they
refused his offer, he built his own table saws.
Legally, the CPSC is required to adhere to voluntary standards that the
Power Tool Institute and its members have written. It is the usual fox
protecting the other foxes, not the consumers, who have to suffer the
consequences of unsafe products. In 2007, another stalling tactic was
introduced by the Power Tool Institute. The manufacturers changed the
blade guard and added a riving knife that will stop the wood from kicking
back. With these new measures in place, the CPSC must review them and
determine if they are safer, before addressing the addition of a blade-stopping
So, while the CPSC is busy reviewing more measures that will not prevent
injury from saw blades, they have determined that in the U.S. alone, at
least 10 people are involved in table saw accidents every day.
If you have suffered a
contact The Kyle Law Firm today for a free consultation.