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Table saw safety feature may soon be mandatory

Between 2007 and 2008, almost 80,000 people sought emergency care for table saw injuries ranging from deep cuts to amputations.* The cost of these injuries totals $2.36 billion per year. According┬áto a commissioner at the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), table saw injury victims face “long, painful recoveries, as well as significant financial hardship and employment challenges.”

However, since 2003, technology has existed that could lessen or entirely prevent these often traumatic injuries. SawStop, a small Oregon company, invented a system that detects when a person makes contact with a spinning table saw blade. On a normal table saw, the blade keeps spinning and can cut, break, or amputate the finger or thumb. On a SawStop product, the blade stops within milliseconds, reducing the injury to a minor nick.

Rather than adopt the new technology, however, the power-tool industry rejected it. In 2007, Inc. Magazine’s Melba Newsome reported that the industry may be avoiding the technology because of fear of increased product liability litigation.

In most cases, when people sue power-tool manufacturers because they’ve lost a finger or hand in an accident, they’re unsuccessful — because it’s tough to prove that the manufacturer did anything wrong. Add SawStop to the mix, however, and the picture changes. Suddenly, the industry is promising an injury-proof saw. What if someone got hurt? “The manufacturer would be at a deeper risk and more vulnerable because it had made a promise of what the technology could do,” says Jim O’Reilley, a product-liability expert at the University of Cincinnati. “Companies are going to be reluctant to expose themselves to that higher risk.”

But the industry may not be able to ignore SawStop for much longer. On October 5, 2011, the CPSC unanimously approved its staff recommendation to publish an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR). Commissioner Robert S. Adler noted that this is “the first step on the road to a possible mandatory performance standard” and could lead to a a change in CPSC’s table saw safety standards. If a rule is eventually adopted, table saw manufacturers would have no choice but to include flesh-sensing technology in their products.

The ANPR provides the public with 60 days to weigh in on the proposed changes. To share your comments with the Commission, visit Regulations.gov.

*The figure comes from the Consumer Product Safety Commission's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.

Entry Filed under: Products Liability

1 Comment Add your own

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