How much a finger is worth depends, of course, on whether the finger is yours or mine. To me it’s priceless. To you, if you make table saws, it’s worth whatever the insurance companies, courts, and juries decide your liability will cost you when a fingerless customer sues.
Table saws are incredibly effective at severing what passes across the table, which makes them extremely dangerous to operators who are at all careless or unlucky. Tens of thousands of disfiguring injuries—deep lacerations, broken bones, amputations—occur annually to table saw users even though technology exists to eliminate the danger almost entirely.
Steve Gass invented and patented the SawStop safety system that stops blades from operating when they sense the electrical conductivity of fingers, or even hot dogs, presented to the blade. Within 3/1000s of a second, the blade senses the conductive tissue and stops turning. Instead of severing fingers or lunch items, it slightly nicks them. Gass says the technology would add $100 to the cost of a table saw. His company has sold thousands of saws using the technology. In 1300 documented cases, customers have come into contact with the blades of their saws and come away with just tiny nicks.
But eight years since he offered to license the SawStop system to Black & Decker, Bosch, Makita and others, no manufacturer has yet agreed to use it. In an interview with NPR’s Chris Arnold, Gass said: “We’re just a small company, you know, in Tualatin, Oregon that nobody’s ever heard of and, you know, we’re trying to change an industry. And they don’t want to be changed. They want to keep the status quo and keep making saws that, you know, cut their customers’ fingers off.”
Recently, the Consumer Product Safety Commission voted unanimously to introduce new safety regulations to force saw manufacturers to reduce injuries, but the big companies are strenuously resisting. They say, among other things, that consumers should have the right to choose. SawStop is available in the marketplace to those who want it, they claim, and that’s as it should be. Requiring new safety standards would force new equipment and higher costs onto the thousands of saw users who don’t injure themselves every year.