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Saw safety device can save workers' fingers, spare injuries

Some of the finest examples of woodworking available anywhere come from Massachusetts shops. Workers take raw pieces of wood and sculpt and shape them into beautiful heirloom furniture, cabinets, musical instruments and works of art.

Though these workers are almost invariably patient, precise and careful, injuries caused by unforgiving sawblades do happen. Fortunately, there is a safety device that can often spare those workers the pain and disfigurement of gruesome injuries and the need for surgeries, physical rehabilitation and workers' compensation.

A device called the SawStop can bring a table saw blade spinning at 4,000 revolutions per minute to a complete stop in just three one-thousandths of a second. Most important, the device can distinguish between a piece of wood and a human finger.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 67,000 professional woodworkers and hobbyists are injured each year by table saws. Those injuries result in more than 33,000 ER visits and 4,000 amputations.

The average cost of one of these injuries to a woodworker? A whopping $35,000. That means that across the nation, woodworking injuries cost more than $2.3 billion in lost wages and medical bills, not to mention the tremendous pain and suffering that accompanies an injury of this type.

Unfortunately, after these kinds of injuries, many workers find themselves unable to perform all of the tasks they were able to complete before the injury, which might leave them with diminished income and earning power.

The SawStop device senses human skin and almost instantly stops the blade, though operators can sustain minor injuries akin to a paper cut, though sometimes the cut requires a couple stitches. In either case, it's quite a difference from an amputation.

Toolmakers have been slow to adopt the technology, however. They say that for do-it-yourselfers, the technology would add a prohibitive cost to cheap table saws.

Another factor in toolmakers' decisions not to adopt the technology (or one like it) appears to be that if they do, they will open the floodgates to liability lawsuits for accidents involving conventional saws.

Let's hope that more woodworking shops soon make use of this injury-preventing technology.

Source: Mother Jones, "Saws Cut Off 4,000 Fingers A Year. This Gadget Could Fix That," May 16, 2013

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