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Another key debate in Washington is over how much the government should regulate industry. One unexpected battleground is power tools. NPR has learned federal regulators are taking steps toward expanding safety requirements for table saws. The saws have exposed spinning blades which can cause severe injuries.
NPR's Chris Arnold reports the industry is resisting new mandates.
CHRIS ARNOLD: Every year, 4,000 Americans chop off their fingers or hands with table saws. Consumer advocates say a proven safety technology, called SawStop, could prevent that. They say its like an air-bag in a car and it should be required. But the industry has not adopted it. Only the one company that invented it is using it.
For years, federal regulators have been aware of this issue. But after a push last month by consumer advocates and injured wood-workers, those regulators are starting to take action.
Ms. INEZ TENENBAUM (Chairman of the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission): It's clear that we need a standard that will truly address and help reduce the tragically high number of finger and hand injuries that are occurring on a daily basis around the country.
ARNOLD: Thats Inez Tenenbaum the Chairman of the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission. She was speaking, yesterday, at a public meeting on table saw safety. NPR has learned that the commission has just directed its staff to draft a new regulation package which is likely to be released for public comment by the end of September.
Ms. TENENBAUM: I met with some of the victims late last month. And I personally witnessed the impact of their injuries. And their livelihoods have been deeply affected by the injuries that they suffered, and these injuries are preventable and there are solutions.
ARNOLD: The commission is considering whether to require something similar to the so-called SawStop system, which was developed by an inventor named Steve Gass. Gass now runs a successful table-saw company and hes sold thousands of these safer table saws. The saw can detect the moment the blade makes contact with flesh instead of wood, and it then slams the blade to a stop - preventing these severe injuries. CPSC Commissioner Bob Adler.
Mr. BOB ADLER: (Consumer Product Safety Commission Commissioner): Its a really powerful technology hes come up with.
ARNOLD: Adler says he doesnt want to sound like hes a champion for SawStop and its founder Steve Gass. But he says the technology breakthrough really does reminds him of some of the most dramatic safety improvements that the government has ever mandated. For one, he says, the rules for refrigerator doors that keep kids from getting locked inside.
Mr. ADLER: Since that laws been on the books and it's been about 50 years, theres never been a death - no kid gets caught inside and suffocates. He is holding out the prospect of having a technology thats almost that good. That virtually eliminates all of the amputations and all of the severe lacerations -hand, finger, elbow, arm - inadvertently going into a saw blade.
ARNOLD: Another commissioner compared the SawStop type technology to seat-belts in cars. Still, yesterday the commissioners heard from executives of many of the major power tool companies. They say it's not necessary to mandate this kind of flesh-sensing safety brake.
Mr. TOM SIGHWICK (Robert Bosch Tool Corporation): So we would start by elevating the blade, as most users typically will lower the blade during transport...
ARNOLD: Yesterday at the CPSCs hearing room, Tom Sighwick with Robert Bosch Tool Corporation, showed one of his company's saws to the commissioners. A problem in the past has been that the plastic blade guards that can be fitted over the saw blade to protect users were too awkward. And people just took them off. So Sighwick is explaining how the industry has totally redesigned these guards.
Mr. SIGHWICK: They're a dramatic improvement over previous generation guards, and we believe have very positive acceptance by end users today. And we think is a very significant step in making these guards more effective.
ARNOLD: Industry executives said these new blade guards are so much better that it's not necessary to require the more expensive and complicated SawStop style safety systems. SawStop says its technology adds around $100 in cost to a saw. The industry though says it would cost more like two or three times that, and for popular low-price table saws that sell for $100 or $200...
MR. GOGOLL (Director of Engineering, Standards, DeWalt Tools): It basically, almost takes a product like this out of the market.
ARNOLD: Thats Ted Gogoll, the director of Engineering Standards for DeWalt tools.
MR. GOGOLL: Its a user issue, really. The users' feedback is theres so much they can pay.
ARNOLD: Another big issue is whether the major tool companies and SawStop can reach a licensing agreement. CPSC officials would like to see these private companies strike a deal to allow the industry to use this technology voluntarily.
Chris Arnold, NPR News, Washington.
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