Table Saws and Preventing Injuries

Monday, January 23, 2012

In 1999, woodworker Steve Gass invented a device that makes it nearly impossible to be seriously injured by a table saw. His invention would prevent some 32,000 serious injuries—including 4,000 finger amputations—per year, but power tool companies resisted the change. Steve Gass and our resident safety expert, Monona Rossol, talk about why it's taken so long to have this and other safety devices accepted into everyday use.


Steve Gass and Monona Rossol

Comments [23]

Akinlabi from Chicago

The increasing number of victims is terrifying. I think there should be some kind of law in place.

Dec. 13 2013 05:28 AM
clive betters

a world of RT wing libertarian repubs, without fingers,that's not the worst thing in the world. i guess, they can pull up their bootstraps, and, accept their newfound digtiless fate,no ?

Jan. 23 2012 11:19 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Nick, Kevlar works against standard bullets because they're relatively blunt & not too hard--that's why when you see a bulletproof vest that's stopped a bullet, the bullet is flattened out. So-called "cop-killer" bullets go through these vests because they're harder & sharper, more like arrows. A saw blade is also hard & sharp, so it wouldn't be stopped by Kevlar either. The gloves would also be thick & make it hard to manipulate the wood for anything more than the most basic, large-scale woodworking.

Monona Rossol responds:
Amy, I wouldn't concentrate on the ability of the Kevlar to resist a cut from the saw. I would consider the fact the Kevlar is a strong fabric that would not tear or break away if caught by the blade. It would pull the glove and the hand into the saw.

Jan. 23 2012 03:49 PM
Colleen from Brooklyn, NY

Absolutely fascinating segment. Have never used a table saw - probably never will, but could not stop listening. Thank you for this piece.

Monona Rossol repsonds:
Colleen, How lovely of you to say this! It makes my day.

Jan. 23 2012 02:38 PM
Ro from Manhattan

Thank you Mr. Lopate for airing this issue. I've never been near a saw of any type but the logic of the 'Saw Stop' is unassailable. Why do people keep holding on to their territorial rights? This is the way I've always done it...
Perhaps it's a male 'thing'. Usually when women are introduced to a safety measure in their lives they explore actively, judge and decide on their further actions based on the safety of their family, not the integrity of their individual ego.

Monona Rossol responds:
As a long time safety professional, I have to agree with everything you said. It is also my experience that women are more likely to adapt to changes and safety procedures.

Jan. 23 2012 02:24 PM
Laura from UWS

Answers to above questions:
1. Biggest need is in industrial settings where majority of injuries happen--people who work all day with saws and where high-end, industrial strength equipment is used. Home users, hobbyists, occasional users will come later.

2. How does it distinguish between flesh, hot dog, and wood? Something to do with electrical conductivity rather than simple pressure. Wikipedia says that electrical conductivity switches work when in contact with something that can conduct electricity (flesh, wet things, metal, etc.). Lumber isn't a good conductor of electricity.

Jan. 23 2012 02:07 PM

I am a hobbist woodworker who suffered a double finger injury (amputation on one)from a router and hope you'll be able to come up with similar safety device for them. BELIEVE ME, when you run your fingers or hand into a blade of any kind, you'll never be the same, and the thought of money will seem pretty damn insignificant when you're undergoing surgery. P.S. I had set up my router table incorectly and that was, in part, my fault. If this man in your story who was injured on the Ryobi table saw, after removing the guard and, from what I've read, also removed the fence, which is incredibly dumb and dangerous to do, he can't blame Ryobi. If he didn't know how to use the saw, he shouldn't have been using it. I don't understand why the judgement was rendered. Must be something esle involved that I read about.

Monona Rossol responds:
The fence was still there as I remember the case. But keep in mind that this man barely spoke English and had none of the training required by OSHA. He was from Columbia with no experience with wood working machines. He just did what people told him to do. But it was the behavior of Ryobi and the other manufacturers that caused the jury to award $1.5 M. They weren't rewarding this injured man. They were punishing Ryobi.

Jan. 23 2012 02:07 PM
Elyse from Stony Brook

My son is a tech ed student ay SUNY Oswego, he has had "up close" and personal experience with saw stop. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU Steve Gass.

Jan. 23 2012 02:00 PM
Nick from UWS

Why don't they invent some saw-resistant Kevlar gloves- something tough enough to resist the saw long enough for you to pull your hand out of the way?

Jan. 23 2012 02:00 PM
Laura from UWS

This one should be placed in the vault with other sterling examples of how best to do radio!!!!!

Many, many thanks!

I hope you follow up. Maybe listeners could volunteer to help advocate for better safety!

Jan. 23 2012 01:59 PM
Susy from NYC

Yes! Why not put your resources into designing a reliable, easy to install system that can be added to an existing saw. You'll sell more of them, and HD, Loews etc will enthusiastically carry them. After all, it will also make them more $ on top of the saws they are already selling. That would be the way to go.

Jan. 23 2012 01:58 PM

My paper shredder requires that I push paper through, but it also has an electrical safety feature such that if I touch the area near the paper feed, the device turns off immediately.

Jan. 23 2012 01:57 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Could the safety guard be redesigned so it didn't cause problems w/the things people remove it for? And maybe that could be retrofitted.

Jan. 23 2012 01:57 PM
Laura from UWS

Do labor unions help?

Any offset from insurance premium reduction?

Jan. 23 2012 01:56 PM
Jane Davenport from Manhattan

How does the sensor distinguish between flesh and wood?

Jan. 23 2012 01:52 PM
art525 from Park Slope

I assume that the doctor who called in complaing that Mr Gass charges too much for his saws didn't charge for his medical services since it was also a pubic service.

Jan. 23 2012 01:52 PM
harry Sweet from Orange County NY

I am a retired tech teacher. A few years ago my school replaced an old bench saw with a Sawstop. It's a great saw and it has saved one student from a serious injury (and quite possibly my district from a law suit).

This is a thing like seat belts. It's a shame that the politics preclude any reasonable mandates.

Jan. 23 2012 01:52 PM
susy from Manhattan

If you think about it, perhaps the reason these co's won't make the change is that Home Depot, Loews and other big boxes simply won't buy product above a certain price point. Even if they wanted to make the change, their business model may not allow it.

If it was mandated, then HD, Loews, Walmart etc would have no choice but to buy it. If not, then any company manufacturing would basically be defenseless against the competition.

Why not get sue the people who sold it -- not the ppl who made it.

Jan. 23 2012 01:50 PM

How does the sensor distinguish between a piece of wood and a piece of flesh?

Jan. 23 2012 01:48 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Years ago I heard about a woman who, upset by seeing pictures of birds that died after getting entangled in thrown-out sixpack rings, drew several designs for rings that would break away when the cans were removed, & patented them. A company expressed interest, bought her patents,...& sat on them. They never made the breakaway rings, & since they owned the patents, no one else could make them either.

I'm very glad Steve Gass invented Saw Stop & actually found a way to get the saws on the market. I guess the lesson is: don't sell your patents!

Jan. 23 2012 01:47 PM
Nick from UWS

The thought must be entertained that the people who rail against safety devices on table saws might just be morons.

Jan. 23 2012 01:41 PM
Cory from Reality

$1,600 is just way too expensive to sell to the home hobyist most likely to amputate fingers. You can buy a cheap table saw at Home Depot for 10% of that figure. The price has to come way down.

Jan. 23 2012 01:40 PM

forgive me, this is a bit offline from this topic,but, related nontheless. how about the use of hyperbaric oxygen chambers,for stroke,and a whole array of other health issues. they do so much more, than just treat divers with the bends,yet, they don't get any real mainstream traction for these uses,in this country. my point: we have all sorts of beaurocratic,and conditioned impediments, that keep us from using devices, that can save our fingers,and on the other end, save our lives.

Jan. 23 2012 12:34 PM

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