MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
The federal government is moving closer to regulating a common tool for carpenters and do-it-yourselfers: the table saw. They're useful, but dangerous with an open spinning blade the size of a dinner plate. Every year, several thousand Americans cut off their fingers using table saws, as NPR's Chris Arnold reports.
CHRIS ARNOLD: CPSC Chairman Inez Tenebaum spoke at a hearing on the issue this week.
INEZ TENENBAUM: I personally met with victims of table saw blade injuries and I have deep sympathy for the pain and the suffering they've endured and will continue for the rest of their lives, all due to one split second miscalculation when using a table saw.
ARNOLD: The trip was organized by Sally Greenberg. She's the head of the National Consumers League and she was also at the hearing this week.
SALLY GREENBERG: They are in constant pain. They have mounting medical bills. They are unable to make a living, many of them, because they can no longer use their hands.
ARNOLD: And government research shows that these sorts of injuries happen all the time. Anne Northup is a current CPSC commissioner and a former Republican congresswoman.
ANNE NORTHUP: It's not what happened to one person or two people. I mean, 3,500 people a year get a finger cut off - at least, at least. Maybe an arm. Thirty-five hundred people a year have an amputation. Now, there's something wrong with the product.
ARNOLD: Or Northup says it's at least worth a hard look to see if the products could be made to be much safer. Chairman Tenenbaum agrees.
TENENBAUM: The severity of these injuries and the frequencies of their occurrence is something that demands action. These injuries can and they should be prevented.
ARNOLD: CPSC commissioner, Robert Adler.
ROBERT ADLER: I have to say, when I saw his technology demonstrated, I was dazzled. I really have trouble believing that it really works, but it does really work and it seems to me that some kind of variation on his approach makes sense.
ARNOLD: You can see a video of the saw at NPR.org. SawStop sells thousands of table saws all around the country now, but the other major saw manufacturers, Black & Decker, Ryobi, Bosch and many others - for years, they've resisted adopting this kind of safety brake. Instead, to address the safety concerns, they've come up with a new and improved plastic guard to cover the saw blade.
CAROLEENE PAUL: We think it's an improvement of an existing technology.
ARNOLD: Caroleene Paul is an engineer with the CPSC who is studying the issue. She says, though, table saws have had guards for decades, but woodworkers commonly remove the guards because they get in the way for certain kinds of cuts. And so she thinks the new and improved guards will similarly fail to stop injuries.
PAUL: We think the limitations with that technology have been evident in all the table saw injuries that we see each year.
ARNOLD: Chris Arnold, NPR News.
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