SawStop technology, cont’d

by Walter Olson on July 8, 2010

NPR covers a story we had in March following a $1.5 million jury award. The law firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner says it is ginning up a campaign of product liability suits to demand that power tool makers be punished for not adopting the finger-protection technology. If that isn’t enough, Consumer Product Safety Commission Chair Inez Tenenbaum says her agency may step in. What about leaving the decision to people who actually buy and use power saws, many of whom have said they have no wish to buy the expensive feature? Alas, that’s not how either the politics or the law work these days.

{ 6 comments }

1 Dennis 07.08.10 at 8:18 am

I guess I’d better buy my new Delta Unisaw before they mandate technology that will cost you a hundred bucks every time it fails.

2 Frank 07.08.10 at 8:51 am

“What about leaving the decision to people who actually buy and use power saws, many of whom have said they have no wish to buy the expensive feature?”

You mean as has been done with seat belts in cars, motorcycle helmets, and childproof closures?

Over 30,000 hospital injuries a year, 3,000 involuntary amputations annually.

Not to mention that if the inventor is truthful, and the SafeSaw(?) is now the best selling table saw in the market, those very people have already spoken.

At least those who are aware that there is a table saw which conceiveably guarantees that one will not cut off a finger. I wasn’t aware of this technology – were you?

I have worked professionally as a mechanic and as a wood worker for ‘fun’. i’m lucky in that I only have scars from unintended encounters with power tools.

I think we have all seen less common sense proposed mandates.

3 gitarcarver 07.08.10 at 9:31 am

You mean as has been done with seat belts in cars, motorcycle helmets, and childproof closures?

So because someone made a series of ridiculous laws and regulations, that validates another ridiculous law and regulation?

Not to mention that if the inventor is truthful, and the SafeSaw(?) is now the best selling table saw in the market, those very people have already spoken.

So the regulation is not needed then, is it?

At least those who are aware that there is a table saw which conceiveably guarantees that one will not cut off a finger. I wasn’t aware of this technology – were you?

If you weren’t, then you have never seen nor read a magazine on woodworking in the past 10 years. I am not sure that your ignorance is a valid reason to mandate something for the rest of us.

The vast majority of accidents that you speak of are due to operator error. In the cited case, the blade guard was removed. The splitter was removed. A push stick wasn’t being used. The blade was dull. He was using too much force. His hands were in the path of the blade and pushing at the wrong angle.

Why is it that we have to protect people from their own stupidity? If someone feels the need not only not to observe every safety feature on a product but to actively try defeat the safety features, how is that the responsibility of the rest of us?

There is a fallacy to the idea that if people don’t follow the rules, that more rules for the rest of us will make things better.

If you can give me a single reason why I should be forced to buy an $800 blade because I am careful with my saw(s), I’d love to hear it.

4 Richard Nieporent 07.08.10 at 5:39 pm

Yes, Frank this technology sounds great. Who could object to paying a “small” amount of money to prevent oneself from being maimed? The problem is that it does not quite work this way. First of all the cost is much higher than the $100 number that is bandied about by the inventor of the technology. Secondly, do you think this technology works correctly 100% of the time? In order to make the saw work anywhere near as advertised, you have to set the false positive rate (the rate at which the saw incorrectly activates the brake) very high, in order to make sure that the false negative rate (the rate at which the saw fails to brake when a finger/arm is in its path) is very low. This means that you are going to periodically have the saw brake go off when you are cutting wood or some other material. Not only is that going to cost you money but it is also going to prevent you from doing work until you replace the blade. You may believe that you should accept this tradeoff because it will save you from being maimed. However, I do not accept this because there is no reason why anyone should loose a finger when using a saw. You have to go out of your way (as was the case of the person in the lawsuit) to disable the safety mechanisms and then violate every principle of using a saw safely. I don’t want to have to pay extra money to attempt to idiot proof a saw. I’ve been around for a few years and have done more than my fair share of projects. Somehow I’ve never managed to get close to hurting myself. How hard is it to realize that you don’t put your hands anywhere near the blade when it is turned on and you shut off the motor if the saw jams before you try to unjam it?

5 David Schwartz 07.08.10 at 6:47 pm

A product is not unsafe just because it’s possible to design a product that is safer. It really is that simple. It’s even clearer where the only safety risks with a product are the ones that are obvious and apparent to every user of that product.

6 Jim Collins 07.09.10 at 7:05 am

Frank,
What happens if the saw’s operator disables the SawStop system, because he’s tired of replacing blades? Will SawStop be held liable if he loses a finger?

As I have mentioned here before, I was one of the designers of a piece of industrial equipment involved in a lawsuit. In this case the operator removed or disabled several safety features in order to increase production. (it was a piecework shop) Any one of the disabled features would have prevented the incident and would have left him with all of his fingers. Should my company have been held liable? (Our insurance settled this before it went to court for a significant sum of money)

In one of my design classes, I heard a statement that I laughed off as a joke. “As soon as you build something that is idiot proof, somebody will go out and concieve a better idiot.” After ten years working as a designer, that statement is no longer a joke to me.

The times that I have used a table or radial arm saw, I have found that the existing safety features and the proper proceedures (feather boards, push sticks, etc.) have been enough.

Comments on this entry are closed.