Table saw injuries

There’s a study that was recently released in The Journal of Trauma, Injury, Infection and Critical Care.

Here’s a summary of the findings:

  • An estimated 565,670 table saw-related injuries were treated in US Emergency Departments from 1990 to 2007.
  • Children (younger than 18 years) were more likely to be injured at school, whereas adults were more likely to be injured at home.
  • Fingers/thumbs were injured most often  and lacerations were the most common type of injury.
  • Amputations were associated with 10% of the injuries, and most of the amputations involved the finger/thumb.
  • Eight percent (47,916 of 565,458) of patients were hospitalized.

Conclusions: Most table saw-related injuries result from contact with the saw blade. Passive injury prevention strategies focusing on preventing finger/thumb/hand contact with the blade need to be implemented.

As a victim of a table saw injury that partially amputated my right thumb, I have to state my observations and address those critics that say, “You shoulda’ had a SawStop!”

First of all, I consider myself an experienced woodworker. I’ve been around saws ever since I was five years old. And I guess that since I get paid to write about woodworking, that must make me a professional. So I ought to know what I’m doing.

Let me just say that first of all, it was an accident. Without going into all the details of what happened, I took all reasonable precautions and proceeded to make the cut. The workpiece grabbed and jammed into the blade, taking my thumb with it. It happened within a split second.

Anyone who has experienced an injury like this will tell you of the weeks of mental anguish that follow such an accident. I blamed myself. I blamed the saw. I blamed the weather. I replayed the incident over and over again in my mind, wondering what went wrong and what I could have done differently. After several months, I resolved that it’s just one of those things that happens and life must go on. I had to learn to live with a shorter thumb without a thumbnail.

Now, about the SawStop proponents. I agree that Steve Gass’ invention is groundbreaking and will prevent many injuries. If I had the money, I’d probably own a SawStop table saw instead of the 10-year old Sears contractor-style saw that claimed my thumb. But I couldn’t afford the $3,000 price tag at the time.

I can hear you now:  “$3,000!  How much did your thumb cost you?!”  Well, if we use that logic, we’d all be driving armored tanks on the roads because they’re safer, right?  But you can’t afford them, so you go with what you have.

As great as the SawStop technology is, I disagree with the way Mr. Gass has tried to force the technology onto us by lobbying that this technology be required on all table saws. Let’s face it…Mr. Gass has a financial incentive to make this happen.

I believe in a free-market enterprise and consumer choice. I can’t believe that other saw manufacturers aren’t watching closely what happens in the marketplace. If consumers demand safer technology, they’ll have to provide it to stay alive. And I believe that the SawStop technology isn’t the only route to a safer saw.

For more background on Steve Gass and his invention, there’s a great article here.  And here are a couple of articles about a landmark award brought against Ryobi because a table saw caused an injury. And Glass’ reaction.

Oh…by the way….it’s alleged in court documents that the user of the table saw that brought the original suit against Ryobi wasn’t using the guards designed to prevent the injury in the first place.

I’ll be watching this one.

In the meantime, you can look for one of these blades I talked about in a previous post.