May 29, 2012 — The California State Assembly has passed a new law that would require all table saws sold in California to have flesh-sensing safety technology by 2015. The matter is now under consideration by the Senate. If enacted, proponents say the law would prevent thousands of table saw injuries, while only adding about $100 to the cost of every table saw.
Das Williams (D – Santa Barbara), a California State Assemblyman, originally introduced Assembly Bill 2218 in February of 2012. When criticized, he said “I wrote this law with one simple goal — to prevent injuries caused by table saws. Period.” It quickly passed in the state assembly 52-2, but would not become law unless passed by the California State Senate. The Senate has not yet set a date for deciding the matter.
Although flesh-sensing safety technology has existed for more than a decade, manufacturers have strongly resisted integrating it into their table saw designs. Even many woodworkers themselves are asking why everyone should be forced to pay more for a table saw when most injuries are due to improper use of a table saw. Manufacturers say the additional cost would make table saws too expensive for some hobbyists.
Advocates for the safety technology say that the additional cost would be worth the reduction in injuries. Last year, the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) reported 67,300 medically treated table saw injuries, including 4,000 severe amputations. Each injury costs society around $35,000, adding up to $2.36 billion per year. If there had been a safety device, most of these injuries could have been treated with a Band-Aid.
The CPSC, a federal oversight commission, has been aware of the issue for more than a decade. At the request of table saw manufacturing groups, they have repeatedly delayed making any decisions regarding the safety devices, saying they need more time to review the matter. According to Assemblyman Williams, “The CPSC recently voted to consider whether a safety standard is needed to address injuries associated with table saws, but they have been debating this for years. It is clear California needs to exercise some leadership on this issue.”
The proposed law would require “active injury mitigation technology.” It is actually a very simple invention — the device runs a small electrical current through the saw. When the blade comes in contact with wood (a poor conductor of electricity), the current does not fluctuate much. When the bade comes in contact with human flesh (a better conductor of electricity), the electrical current in the blade drops. A special sensor registers this change, and triggers a sudden braking mechanism which stops the blade and retracts it into the machine.
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