Much Safer Electric Saws Could Become The Law In The US.

Photo: Courtesy of SawStop. This table saw costs $899, but it is almost impossible to injure yourself with it, because of a technology that detects whether the blade is touching skin and quickly stops the blade.
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Table saws are widely considered the most dangerous power tool, and cause about 30,00  injuries require medical treatment each year in the United States out of which about 4,000 result in amputations that can be career-ending for some professional carpenters and contractors.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission says that when a person is hospitalized, the cost to society table saw injury exceeds $500,000 when you also factor in loss of income and pain and suffering.

But what can be done? Turns out that a new technolgogy already exists that could prevent most of these injuries.

Marketed under the name SawStop, the saw uses special sensors and a mechanism that stops and retracts the blade within a few milliseconds of making contact with flesh — fast enough to turn a potentially life-changing injury into little more than a scratch.

This YouTube video has a demonstration of the new type of saw using a sausage instead of a finger, and the sausage is hardly nicked.

This technology has been around for almost a decade, but it is not required by law.

This may be about to change in the US.

The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) appears poised to mandate a SawStop-type safety brake on all new table saws sold in the United States. The move would follow years of failed efforts and false starts by the agency to impose such a standard.

Manufacturers have consistently fought a new rule, saying it would raise the price of table saws for consumers (and presumably reduce the number of sales). Safety advocates liken it to air bags in cars and argue that the benefits outweigh the costs.

Over the years, Republicans on the commission have sided with the power tool industry in opposing further regulations. But with new Biden administration appointees, proponents on the commission appear to have a majority. In October, the CPSC voted to move forward on the mandate, which is expected to get approval later this year.

“We’ve got a [proposed] rule that is designed to prevent tens of thousands of medically treated table saw injuries per year,” says CPSC Commissioner Richard Trumka Jr. “That’s something that I very much support.”

Former acting CPSC Chairman Robert Adler says a standard requiring a blade brake “is long, long overdue.” An average of more than 10 people per day in the U.S. suffer amputations on these types of saws, and “that is staggering when you think about it,” he says. “I’m so thrilled to see it’s very likely to occur now.”

Adler, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009 and served on the commission for 12 years, is a veteran of the fight for a new table saw safety standard. He calls the failure to require this type of feature on saws “the greatest single frustration I felt” while on the commission. He says that’s because table saws are far and away the most dangerous tool that most Americans ever buy.

SawStop’s competitors are represented by the Power Tool Institute, the trade group that includes big power-tool makers such as Bosch, DeWalt and Milwaukee, as well as lesser-known brands. The group maintains that the new safety rule would be an overreach.

“Small manufacturers may go out of business,” Susan Orenga, the Power Tool Institute’s executive manager, said at a public hearing on the new rule in February. Requiring the safety brake would raise the cost of table saws too much, she said. “Sales of table saws will decrease, resulting in unemployment, and the government could be creating a monopoly.”

The industry has long maintained that since SawStop owns patents surrounding the safety technology, the company would unduly benefit from such a government-imposed standard. But at the same hearing where Orenga spoke, SawStop pledged to allow manufacturers to produce safer saws regardless of those patents.

Exactly how much the safety brake would add to the price of a saw is unclear. An entry-level SawStop retails for $899. A comparable saw without the safety technology goes for several hundred dollars less.

But with the economies of scale enjoyed by larger competitors, the price difference could be much narrower in future years.

Since SawStop came onto the market in 2004, tens of thousands of the company’s table saws have been sold in the U.S., and the company estimates that this has saved tens of thousands of professional and hobbyist woodworkers from injury.

The key to the SawStop is its active injury mitigation (AIM) system, which sends a small electrical charge through the saw blade, and because skin is conductive, the system senses whether the blade is touched. Basically, wood doesn’t conduct electricity, but people do. When a hand comes in contact with the blade on a SawStop, this triggers a brake to stop the blade from spinning. This occurs so quickly that there’s not enough time for a serious injury.

Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League, has been interested in table saw safety since first hearing about the SawStop technology on NPR in 2004. Like Adler, she has been frustrated by the slow progress on a new safety standard.

“This is a category of product that could be made in this case 100% safe, but because of industry foot-dragging and resistance and lobbying power in Congress and with agencies, you have a situation of two steps forward, one step back,” she says.

Are these saws availabe in the Caribbean yet? An enquiry to the SawStop company received the following response:

Hi there, Unfortunately we don’t have any dealers who currently ship to your country. There are electrical and certification issues we have not yet addressed for our product to be available in most areas around the world. We are still working on these issues and hoping that as we grow, we will be able to open our product up to more areas around the world. If you know an existing machinery dealer in your area that may be able to carry SawStop products, please pass on their contact information to us. Once we are in a position to sell into your country these contacts will be very helpful.

Sources: NPR, SawStop.


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