National Consumers League

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Table saw accidents preventable with technology improvements

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Table saw accidents responsible for 4,000 amputations per yearDid you know that each year, tens of thousands of people are brutally injured by table saws – including 4,000 amputations – at a cost of more than $2 billion a year to treat victims? This just in: CPSC, in a unanimous 5-0 vote on October 5, 2011, decided to move forward with an ANPR regarding a national table saw safety standard. Click here to view NCL's press release hailing the decision.

The National Consumers League has been calling on the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to implement safety changes that would help keep this major public health threat at bay since November of last year. Recently, NCL brought table saw victims from across the country (whose stories are available below) to CPSC headquarters to share their debilitating injuries with CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum.

With NCL’s strong support, CPSC has voted unanimously (5-0) in favor of moving forward with an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding establishing a national table saw safety standard—a giant step forward in curbing the unnecessary loss of life and limb.

Click here for an NCL fact sheet on saw safety

Victims’ stories of table saw injuries are grisly. Meet Adam, a husband and father of two sons, who is sharing his experience this spring with policymakers in hopes that table saws will be made safer for others:

Adam

Adam, a very experienced woodworker who owns a woodworking business, was cutting panels on a contractor saw on May 12, 2010 and as the material started to fall off the backside of the saw, he instinctively went to grab the panel. As he was pulling the panel back, his elbow caught the top of the blade and the blade then pulled his elbow further into the blade, up to the center portion of his forearm.

The blade cut completely through the ulna bone and ulnar nerve in his right forearm, and also caused extensive damage to muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Since the accident, Adam has been going through extensive medical treatment and therapy. He has an upcoming visit to the Mayo Clinic to review the possibility of harvesting nerves from his ankles and feet and transplanting them to his forearm and hand. Doctors estimate it will take 3-5 years for him to recover.

Adam had recently started a woodworking business and was self-employed at the time of the accident, so this has been very tough financially on his young family. Though he is still able to do woodworking, he cannot continue his business because doing the work is too painful and slow to be able to turn a profit on what he builds. He is now in the process of applying for Social Security. He has had medical assistance step in to help with the medical bills, so the out-of-pocket cost of the injury to him and his family is not yet fully known. His wife now works as a part-time nurse to cover living expenses while Adam recovers. Adam has been interviewing for jobs but has not been able to get one because in every interview he has been asked what he can commit to do physically and he cannot yet answer that question. Every day is different in regards to the level of pain he feels in his hand and the degree he can move his fingers.

Read more stories like Adam’s (warning: PDFs contain graphic injury images): Chris | Curtis | Gerald | Adam's full story

Consumer product safety advocates find stories like Adam’s especially heartbreaking because they are preventable. Eight years ago a company called SawStop, which has developed safety technology to stop the saw blade when it detects electrical impulses given off by a finger or other body part, filed a petition with the Commission asking that the Commission adopt safety technology throughout the industry. The CPSC has yet to act on that petition or set a safety standard for table saws.

A 2006 CPSC staff report to the Commission in response to the petition shows a positive cost-benefit analysis to setting a national performance standard for table saws, and recommends granting the petition and proceeding with a rulemaking process that could result in a mandatory safety standard for table saws to reduce the risk of blade contact injury . CPSC voted in 2006 to start the regulatory process, but no action was ever taken. In early 2011, manufacturers of safer saw technologies were invited to present their positions at a CPSC public meeting, but no additional action has been taken.

“Each day we wait for CPSC to act, 10 new amputations occur,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director, who has been calling on the CPSC to act on table saw safety issues. “We’re throwing away 4,000 fingers each year when safer-saw technology exists. The time for action is now.”