Feds Consider Unprecedented Safety Rules for Tablesaws
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How we got here
Many of you will remember the heated debate when Carlos Osorio, a carpenter who injured himself using a jobsite tablesaw, was awarded $1.5 million from One World Technologies, maker of the Ryobi tablesaw he was using. Breathing new life into the flames of that debate, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) voted unanimously on October 5 to propose a new tablesaw safety standard.
Why the CPSC made the move
Steve Gass, inventor of the SawStop flesh-detection technology, approached the CPSC in 2003, asking that they move toward a rule that would make tablesaws safer. At that time, the CPSC decided more research was necessary before coming to a decision on whether to move forward. Last week, they voted unanimously to move forward on an ANPR (“Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking”), which outlines their intentions.
What would the proposed standard include?
The ANPR is a 222 page pdf document, which is open to the public. Here are the high points:
- Cited data:
– Of the 79,500 total emergency department-treated injuries associated with tablesaws in 2007 and 2008, an estimated 76,100 injuries were sustained by operators of the tablesaws.
– Of those injuries, 66,900 (88%) involved blade contact. 30% occurred on tablesaws where a blade guard was in use, and 66.5% occurred on tablesaws that did not have a blade guard attached.
– 35% of these injuries occurred as a result of kickback (typically the kickback pulling the operator’s hand into the blade), the balance being unrelated to kickback (i.e., riving knives and anti-kickback pawls wouldn’t have helped).
- Economic considerations:
– Assuming an average retail price of $500 per tablesaw, and average annual shipments of about 700,000 units, CPSC staff believe that annual retail sales may be in the range of $300 to $400 million.
– The cost of treatment of blade-contact injuries (and other associated costs) add up to approximately $2.36 billion per year, so the math is pretty cut and dry. We’re spending more on patching up tablesaw-related wounds than these companies are making selling the tools.
The proposed rule:
- The current voluntary safety regulations (i.e., riving knives) don’t address what the CPSC has found to be the majority of injuries. (Editor’s note: the CPSC’s research period ended in 2008, prior to the voluntary standard being put in place, so some question whether more testing is needed.)
- According to SawStop owner Steve Gass, the standard hasn’t been written yet, so we don’t know for sure what it will include. Gass’s best guess is that it will basically say that a person should not be cut more than 1/8th of an inch deep when contacting or approaching the blade at a speed of one foot per second. He goes on to note that a manufacturer may achieve that by stopping the blade, retracting the blade, covering the blade, blocking the hand, or in some other way. This is a so-called performance standard, not a design standard, as it doesn’t say how you have to achieve the result, just that it must provide the specified degree of safety performance.
What are the implications for the tablesaw market?
- Testimony in the Osorio case indicated that blade-brake technology would cost the manufacturer about $50 more. It’s not clear whether this is end-user cost, or just parts. Gass is working on a portable jobsite saw that includes his flesh-sensing technology (see pictures above). We’re told his early estimate is the saw would likely sell for under $1,000. How much less is yet to be determined.
- We’ve got calls in to major tablesaw manufacturers to get their take on how these changes might affect costs, but Gass’s experience as a patent attorney makes him a formidable roadblock if these other companies are determined to come up with their own solutions to the proposed rule.
What happens next?
It’s important to note that nothing is set in stone yet. The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s ANPR is an invitation for feedback. As written in the document, it “invites written comments from interested persons concerning […] the regulatory alternatives discussed in this notice, other possible means to address this risk, and the economic impacts of the various alternatives.”
There are two options: They can either issue a mandatory rule, which would be required of all tablesaw manufacturers, or they could issue a labeling rule, which would require manufacturers to increase awareness of potential dangers with more warning labels, etc.
Right now, Fine Homebuilding and our sister magazine, Fine Woodworking, are following this matter closely, and plan to offer an unbiased and comprehensive response to the CPSC. Our magazines are also discussing a trip to the SawStop offices in Oregon to see the prototype in person to see how well it will compete with other portable models in the field.
We want to know what you think. Cast your vote and join the discussion, below.
<noscript><a href=”http://polldaddy.com/poll/5581097/”>Do you think it’s time for some form of blade-brake technology to be mandated in all table saws?</a></noscript>
Side view of the prototype. Notice the blade brake to the right side of the assembly.
Opposite side view of the prototype. It appears to have a belt-driven motor.
SawStop inventor Steve Gass agreed to let us share photos of his prototype jobsite saw, which he said would likely cost about $100 more than the Bosch 4100.