CPSC revisits table saw safety proposalWASHINGTON -- Table saw safety and the potential of mandating electronic brake systems were front and center during a hearing of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission held last Wednesday.

CPSC commissioners continued deliberating what action they might take to curb accidents related to table saw use. Approximately 3,500 people lose a finger or worse each year operating a table saw, according to the CPSC.

A leading option being explored by CPSC is requiring table saw manufacturers to outfit their equipment with the SawStop system, which instantly stops a saw when it senses the saw blade has come in contact with skin. SawStop inventor and president Stephen Gass has previously petitioned the CPSC to require that his company's patented safety device be used on all table saws.

The SawStop won a Challengers Award at the Internationnal Woodworking Fair in 2000.

National Public Radio quoted Commissioner Robert Adler as being "dazzled" by a recent demonstration of the SawStop System by Gass. "I had trouble believing that it really works. But it does really work, and it seems to me some variation on his approach makes sense."

The Power Tool Institute (PTI), whose members include Black & Decker, Delta, Ryobi, has expressed concern about the potential of CPSC mandating new table saw safety requirements. PTI issued a media advisory in August saying it favors "working to promote safety through a voluntary standard process, while the government is considering a petition by patent attorney Stephen Gass. Gass's petition could mandate a design standard that has the potential to eliminate portable benchtop saws from the market due to the cost of compliance.

"PTI members are working to promote safety through the updated UL 987 safety standard, investing hundreds of millions of dollars in an effort to make table saws and other power tools safe when used properly. Since 2007, manufacturers have introduced over 800,000 saws with newly designed guards that meet the requirements of the UL 987 safety standard. To date, there has been only one reported blade contact injury on a table saw with the new guard."

PTI said the new guard systems not only protect workers from blade contact but also from kickback injuries. "These new guarding systems are modular and offer excellent visibility and ease of removal and installation," PTI said.

New Saw Guards Better, but...
While a CPSC engineer agreed that the new guarding system marks an improvement of what was previously available, CPSC commissioners remain concerned that too many woodworkers remove the guard from their saws because they view them as a hindrance.

In May, CPSC commissioners met with a group of woodworkers who sustained serious hand injuries while operating table saws. Some of them noted that their accidents occurred while working with saws on which they had removed the safety guard.

CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum was quoted by NPR as saying at last week's hearing, "The severity of these injuries and the frequency of their occurrence is something that demands action. These injuries can and they should be prevented."

In its media advisory, the PTI expressed numerous points of concern. Among them, PTI claims:

  • SawStop has more than 120 patents potentially giving it a virtual monopoly on the technology that the CPSC might mandate. "If this is so, the CPSC would be imposing a design standard rather than a performance standard as the Consumer Product Safety Act requires. This proposed standard would generate millions of dollars for SawStop while hurting consumers; undermining the development of new table saw safety technology; and creating a monopolistic advantage for SawStop in the marketplace."
  • Benchtop saws currently in the $99 to $600 range could increase by about $300.
  • SawStop would charge other table saw manufacturers an 8% royalty to use its patented technology."If the SawStop CPSC petition were granted, it could be tantamount to the elimination of portable benchtop saws from the market due to the cost of compliance. The increased cost of even the least expensive table saws would result in power tool users resorting to unsafe methods to accomplish cuts normally performed on a table saw."
  • "If the SawStop CPSC petition were granted, it could be tantamount to the elimination of portable benchtop saws from the market due to the cost of compliance. The increased cost of even the least expensive table saws would result in power tool users resorting to unsafe methods to accomplish cuts normally performed on a table saw."

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