Busy body rent-seeking?
The Consumer Products Safety Council is taking a long, hard look at table saws at the moment. After all, a number of people have been seriously injured with these saws. I often refer to them as the Whirling Blade of Death (TM), and that’s for a reason. However, the CPSC is now considering intervening, and I’m not real crazy about it.
I’m a neophyte woodworker, so I follow power tool news to some extent. I’m also more than a little scared of the table saw. So I should be fine with this, right? Not really. You see, I’m not so sure this is really about safety. I see it more as a company with new technology that wants to force it on everyone.
The agency estimates consumers suffered about 67,300 medically treated blade-contact injuries annually in 2007 and 2008. Including medical costs, lost time from work, and pain and suffering, the injuries cost more than $2 billion in each of those two years.
Table saw makers say those numbers don’t reflect the newly designed guard systems that manufacturers started putting on saws in 2007 as way to shield users. The Power Tool Institute says there have been no reported blade-contact injuries on a table saw with the new guards.
The saw issue has languished at the commission for nearly a decade.
In 2006, the CPSC was poised to take up table saw safety based on a petition that inventor and patent attorney Stephen Gass had filed several years earlier. But a change in leadership at the agency forced a delay.
Gass’ technology, called SawStop, has a sensor that can stop the spinning blade if a finger gets too close.
For the record, SawStop manufactures its own saws. As competitors have argued, requiring the technology will add significant cost to a piece of equipment that is already pretty pricey. Of course, SawStop saws are higher than their competitors, so why wouldn’t they try to force the issue?
First developed in the late 1990s, most manufacturers so far haven’t embraced it. They say adding the technology would add several hundred dollars to the price of a saw.
It definitely seems true. For example, the Delta Unisaw is a pretty popular cabinet saw, which is the largest type of table saw. It runs around $2,800. A Powermatic cabinet saw can run a little less- about $2,700, depending on where you shop. The same is true of Jet’s cabinet saw. The SawStop saw runs about $3,000.
Not only that, but the way the technology works is that if it senses flesh, a brake essentially engages and locks the blade down tight. However, you can’t unlock it. You have to pay a technician to come and disengage the brake for normal operations. This means that requiring the technology, which is heavily patented I might add, will create a whole new industry for technicians and increase the cost of operations.
The truth of the matter is that table saws are dangerous, but only if not used properly. Part of my fear of these tools lies in the fact that I have a notoriously short attention span and that’s not a good combination with these saws. If I were to get one, I’d lean towards the SawStop because of the technology.
That said, there’s no reason to require it. The new guards implemented in 2007 – without government requirements to implement them – seem to be doing the job just fine. If, after four years, there are no documented cases of injury with the new guards in place, then I’m willing to call that plenty. Oh yeah, the new guards aren’t proprietary technology that only SawStop owns. Maybe that’s why SawStop doesn’t think they’re sufficient?
Rent seeking corporations. Don’t you just love them?