Tablesaw Safety, Liability, and Common Sense on the Jobsitecomments (25) May 12th, 2010 in Blogs
I've rarely used a portable table saw that had a blade guard installed. That's mostly because blade guards are so poorly designed that they seem to cause more trouble than they confront. It's not that I don't think blade guards are a good idea, I've tried to keep them in good condition and use them, but as soon as the bar gets a little bit bent, or the Plexiglas gets a bit scratched, these safety mechanisms can become safety hazards.
I'm not alone in this.
I've also seen a lot of guys operate portable table saws without the rip fence -- cutting free-hand. I've even done it a few times, but I must say, my senses were on high alert because I was hyper-aware that something could go terribly wrong. Now that I'm a web producer/editor, I use my table saw rarely (when my wife demands a new book shelf or a built-in kitchen desk). It seems a lot more foreign to me than it used to, so when I flip the switch, my senses go on high alert. I'm even contemplating trading my old table saw for a new SawStop model.
The first time I heard about SawStop, I was in a waiting room of a glass company, waiting to pick up an order for a remodeling job I was working on. I was a remodeler in Portland, Maine, back before I made the switch to working for Fine Homebuilding. It must have been 2001, I saw a short article about it in a magazine featuring the photo of a hotdog getting nicked by a tablesaw blade that we've all seen thousands of times. I was thrilled to see this invention because I thought for sure it would be adopted by tool manufacturers soon and my job sites could be just a little bit safer. I took danger in stride as a builder/remodeler, but I was always looking for ways to make things a little safer.
A few months later, one of the guys on my crew cut a couple of fingers off working by himself in the shop. He was being careless and it was no one's fault but his own. Still, it would have been great if that blade come screeching to a halt as soon as it touched his fingers. I know another guy who plunged a circular saw into his thigh because he had the blade guard tied back and was being careless. One time, on a framing job, a guy shot a 12d nail through the meaty part of my thumb as we framed a floor — I held the joists in place, he was bounce-firing. He had bad aim.
In March, a jury awarded $1.5 million in a case against Ryobi for a benchtop tablesaw injury that happened on a Massachusetts jobsite. The lawsuit claimed that the saw should have been equipped with blade-braking technology such as the aforementioned SawStop system. The story has been covered closely by Fine Woodworking associate editor Partrick McCombe.
In his most recent update, Patrick reported that Carlos Osorio, the plaintiff, was new to the trades and had been operating a portable tablesaw without a blade guard, splitter, or rip fence. When the strip of oak flooring began to bind, he pushed harder. His hand slipped and went through the blade. Fortunately, he didn't lose his hand or fingers, but he did cut the heck out of his hand.
This is a tragedy all-around:
- It's too bad that tool manufacturers didn't embrace the idea of SawStop when the inventor pitched the technology to them (they could have charged more for their tools!)
- It's too bad that Mr. Osorio's boss didn't train him a little better in tablesaw safety.
- It's too bad that blade guards and splitters aren't better designed so that they're not removed and thrown away so frequently.
- t's too bad that the tablesaw company was held liable for this accident.
No matter what you think of Mr. Osorio's safety habits, these accidents are hard to reconcile. Yes, we make our own luck and when we do dumb things, dumb things happen. But it sure is nice when there's a safety mechanism to cover for you.
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