Despite Proven Technology, Attempts To Make Table Saws Safer Drag On It's unclear whether the Consumer Product Safety Commission will finally pass a rule requiring all new saws to have an active injury prevention monitoring system built into them.

Despite Proven Technology, Attempts To Make Table Saws Safer Drag On

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We've been following for a long time now a story about an invention that could save thousands of Americans every year from really serious accidents. Industry has resisted adopting it. And now, regulators in Washington may take steps to force the issue. NPR's Chris Arnold reports.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Back in 2004, I saw a little ad in the back of a woodworking magazine. It said SawStop, the table saw that won't cut off your fingers. Now, a table saw has a big, jagged metal blade that spins at a hundred miles an hour. And a lot of people get hurt using them. So I called up the company, and I talked to the inventor. His name is Steve Gass. And he had this amazing story to tell.

STEVE GASS: I was just out in my shop one day. And I happened to look over at my table saw and thought, you know, I wonder if you ran your hand under the blade, if you could stop it quick enough that you wouldn't get a serious injury. And it seemed doable.

ARNOLD: There was Gass back then at a woodworking show. Every year, more than 4,000 Americans suffer amputations, get their hands mangled using table saws. And Gass figured out a safety brake that could prevent all of those accidents. None of the major power tool companies would buy his invention, so he started his own saw company. He proved that the technology worked.

And he petitioned the Consumer Product Safety Commission, saying, hey, you should require the rest of the industry to make safer saws, too. And yesterday, he was back at the Commission, this time asking, why haven't you done this yet?


GASS: You commissioners have the power to take one of the most dangerous products ever available to consumers and make it vastly safer. And yet, here we are, over 14 years after this petition was initially filed, still engaged in a glacial process with an uncertain end.

ARNOLD: Earlier this year, the Safety Commission voted to take a key step towards a new safety rule for table saws. The rule would require the saws to sense when an injury is about to occur and to stop the blade. That's what SawStop does. The hearing yesterday was a chance for industry and the public to weigh in. And Joshua Ward from Oregon wanted to be there.


JOSHUA WARD: In 2013, I was in wood shop class in my high school.

ARNOLD: Ward says, the table saw jerked the wood he was cutting. And in an eye blink, four of his fingers were either cut off or badly mangled. Beyond the surgeries and the pain, Ward says it's limited his life. His dad's a firefighter. He grew up in the firehouse every day.


WARD: It's kind of been a lifelong dream of mine was to be a firefighter. And this injury has put that to an end. And as we speak, it's about 12:30. Six people have already had fingers amputated today. And there's going to be another 10 tomorrow.

ARNOLD: He urged the CPSC to adopt the new rule. But even after all this time, it's unclear if that will happen. Susan Young, with the industry group the Power Tool Institute, said the proposed rule needs even more study and is missing data.


SUSAN YOUNG: Lacks essential data from critical studies currently being conducted and continuing throughout 2017.

ARNOLD: Some of the commissioners had other concerns. And with uncertainty about how to move forward in the air, Commissioner Elliot Kaye, who joined the hearing by Skype, said he had a message for Joshua Ward, who was so badly injured in shop class.


ELLIOT KAYE: Mr. Ward, I want to apologize to you, personally, that we failed you and that we continue to fail the 10 victims per day that you mentioned earlier. We should do better. We can do better.

ARNOLD: For now, the Consumer Product Safety Commission will be analyzing public comments. Then, the commission could finally vote on whether to make table saws a whole lot safer. Chris Arnold, NPR News, Washington.


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