Skip to main content

Historic Table Saw Rule Could Provide Greatest Net Benefits of Any Rule in CPSC History: $2.32 Billion Every Year

October 18, 2023

I get scraped and cut in my workshop pretty regularly. Sometimes I need to super glue myself shut or at worst, get a few stitches. But I still have all my fingers. And that’s probably because I stopped using my table saw. I had too many close calls with it. I had pieces grab and pull my hands far too close to the saw blade. I’ve had pieces shoot across the room with enough force to put holes in my drywall. I couldn’t justify continuing to use it—it’s simply too dangerous. So, I had to create workarounds. I use my miter saw, or my router table, or homemade jigs that let me use my circular saw for long cuts.

Now that I work at CPSC, I see that my concerns are backed by tragic statistics. Table saws injure over 50,000 people a year. And these are gruesome injuries like fractures and finger amputations. The Civil War was responsible for 60,000 amputations. Table Saws are responsible for more: 65,000 amputations…and that’s just since we were petitioned to fix the issue.

But today, we advanced a rule to save those fingers. To stop those amputations. Technology exists that could prevent table saws from cutting more than 3.5 millimeters into skin. That turns an ER trip to a trip to the medicine cabinet for a band aid. And our rule would require that level of safety. In doing so, the rule would provide the greatest net benefit to society of any rule in the agency’s history that I’m aware of—up to a $2.32 billion net benefit every year.

It’s troubling that it took this long. An inventor created a solution to this problem a quarter century ago, back in 1999. And he petitioned this agency to require that level of safety on table saws in 2003. We’ve wasted 20 years. In the time it’s taken this agency to act on this petition, table saws have injured one million people.

That inventor, by the way, went from idea to prototype in less than a month, entirely by himself. So, perhaps it wouldn’t be difficult for major saw manufacturers to quickly come up with safe solutions. But they might not even need to. Because they might already have those solutions. Other saw makers have created and implemented equivalent solutions. There may be licensing deals and options that would allow most major brands to use that technology today. Why then, aren’t they doing it? Why isn’t this safety technology ubiquitous? The answer might be as simple as money. Saw sellers appear to be scared that if they start selling safer saws, they will open themselves up to product liability lawsuits when injuries occur in great numbers on their other saws. So, we’re in danger…to protect their bottom line. I don’t appreciate that.

And this proposal comes with a $2.32 billion annual net benefit even with the assumption that companies are going to struggle with getting patent licenses or need to invent new technology from scratch. If any companies have rights to existing technology that works, the benefits would be even higher. So, that’s all just a red herring—the rule assumes difficulty already, and that difficulty might not even exist.

The one place where I draw issue with the proposal is that it would require us to wait for three more years before the rule goes into effect. That would mean agreeing to severely injure 150,000 more innocent people—people we should instead be protecting.

We will have to select an effective date that is reasonably necessary to end the hazard. With a rule that has billions of dollars in net benefits to society, a logical question might be: isn’t there a reasonable need to start gaining those benefits as soon as possible? Maybe even 30 days after a final rule. That’s the shortest period we can typically select by law.

The longest effective date we are allowed to select by law is six months. To depart from that requires good cause. Here, staff seeks to depart all the way up to three years…and I don’t currently see any good cause to do so.

And while we don’t need to show that it will be easy for companies to comply quickly, we may learn that it is. We know that three companies have already sold a saw with AIM technology. It’s also my understanding that many table saw manufacturers might currently have the rights to compliant safety features and are choosing not to incorporate them. It’s my understanding that the industry group, the Power Tool Institute undertook a joint venture among its members, including Hitachi, Bosch, Stanley Black and Decker, and Techtronic Industries and appear to have created viable saw safety features which may be usable by all of its members. Today, I sent letters to the leadership at Bosch, TTS, Saw Stop, Hitachi, Stanley Black and Decker, and Techtronic Industries seeking information on which of them have access to AIM technology which would allow them to comply with the proposed performance requirements (See Attachment A). Their answers are due on November 15th, and I have asked them to submit those answers to the Commission’s Secretary for inclusion in the public record. While we don’t need that information to go forward with the rule that’s written, it would be relevant to shortening the effective date considerably. And Commenters, please weigh in with other reasons why a shorter effective date is reasonably necessary.

I wish this agency had done 20 years ago what we are doing today. A million people would have stayed out of the ER. 65,000 people would still have their fingers. And at least one friend of mine would still have his.

Today, we did good. And in the coming months…let’s decide to do good faster.

Report an unsafe product