RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Here in the U.S., some 40,000 people end up hospital emergency rooms every year with injuries from the table saw. Many of them end up with amputations.
Today, consumer advocates are in Washington, D.C., pushing for tougher safety regulations. NPR's Chris Arnold reports.
CHRIS ARNOLD: A table saw has an open, spinning blade the size of a dinner plate. And every day in this country, on average, more than 10 people cut off their fingers, or even half of their hands, on these saws. Carpenters lose their livelihoods. Many people never recover. But what's most striking is that all of those accidents are preventable. They don't have to happen.
Ms. SALLY GREENBERG (Executive director, National Consumers League): The problem is enormous, and it's getting worse.
ARNOLD: Sally Greenberg heads up the National Consumers League. The problem, she explains, is that there's a safety brake technology that can stop a table saw instantly - before it cuts off a finger. It's like an airbag in a car; it's a breakthrough safety feature. But only one saw manufacturer builds it into its saws.
Ms. GREENBERG: We've got this great technology. It's not terribly expensive to implement. Let's do it.
(Soundbite of table saw)
ARNOLD: The technology is called SawStop. And its inventor, Steve Gass, likes to show how it works by using a hot dog.
Mr. STEVE GASS (Inventor, SawStop): I'm going to put this hot dog on top of the board here, as if it was my thumb misplaced in the path of the blade. And then I'm going to shove it into the blade and...
ARNOLD: NPR has followed Steve Gass over the years as he started a company that is now manufacturing tens of thousands of these safe SawStop saws. Last summer, he was demonstrating his saw to a high school shop class. As soon as the hot dog touches the blade, the blade slams to a stop.
(Soundbite of saw blade)
Mr. GASS: Ready?
(Soundbite of slam)
(Soundbite of applause)
ARNOLD: The hot dog barely has a scratch on it. Actually, Sally Greenberg, the consumer advocate - she first heard about this safety issue on NPR seven years ago. And she grew frustrated that after all of these years, the industry still hasn't adopted this technology, and the government hasn't mandated it.
Ms. GREENBERG: What we have here is a classic example of why the Consumer Product Safety Commission was set up by Congress. You have a pattern of injury; you have technology that can address the injury, and it can address the injury for a reasonable cost. This should have been done years ago.
ARNOLD: So now, Greenberg's been meeting this week with government safety officials and members of Congress. She's visiting their offices with people who've suffered unnecessary injuries on table saws.
Mr. ADAM THULL (Carpenter): Reaching across the blade, my elbow entered the blade, and it proceeded to pull my arm all the way through the blade, cutting 100 percent through the ulna bone - tendons, ligaments, nerves.
ARNOLD: Adam Thull is a professional carpenter who ran his own business. He's got a wife and kids and lives in Crosslake, Minnesota. Since his accident a year ago, he's had multiple operations. But he remains in a lot of pain and can't earn a living.
Mr. THULL: Financially, we went from me and my wife actually having a successful, small, little business there to now we are on food stamps, medical assistance, energy assistance.
Ms. INEZ TENENBAUM (Chairman, Consumer Product Safety Commission): I want to be part of the solution.
ARNOLD: That's Inez Tenenbaum, the chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. She met with Thull and other injured people yesterday. Tenenbaum says she would prefer it if the industry would adopt this safety brake technology voluntarily. But that, clearly, has not been happening. And she says she wants to push ahead with tougher safety regulations.
Ms. TENENBAUM: I do believe that we have enough votes here at the commission, now, to begin federal rule-making. We could do this in the next few months.
ARNOLD: For its part, the power tool industry is opposed to this kind of new regulation. The saw brake technology adds around $100 in cost to a saw, so for expensive saws, that's maybe not such a big deal. But for cheap, $100 table saws, it could double the price of those saws. Also, the power tool companies say that SawStop wants too much money to license the safety brake. So all that still needs to be addressed as the government moves towards regulation.
Chris Arnold, NPR News.
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