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 been enforced.
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 technology.
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 personal injury, contact The Kyle Law Firm today for a free consultation.