Letter to the Editor: Response to PTI on SawStop

In 2003 the founders of SawStop, along with 339 other individuals, petitioned the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for a new safety standard for table saws. In 2006 the CPSC voted 2-1 to begin the process, with then-Chairman Hall Stratton voting in favor (Stratton was appointed by President George W. Bush). The CPSC, however, did not begin the process because Stratton resigned shortly after the vote, leaving a 1-1 deadlock.

The CPSC currently has five commissioners and in June of 2011 those commissioners voted to make table saw safety a priority. Chairman Inez Tenenbaum directed CPSC staff to prepare a briefing package to the commissioners, and that report was presented to the Commission on September 21, 2011 and recommended that the Commission move forward with the advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR). In a demonstration of rare bipartisan support, on October 5th, the Commission voted 5-0 to move forward with the ANPR.

A trade association called the Power Tool Institute, Inc. (PTI), which is dominated by foreign manufacturers,[1] opposes the proposed new safety standard even though approximately 40,000 consumers are seriously injured by table saws each and every year and even though table saw injuries cost society $2 billion annually.[2] If workplace injuries are included, the numbers are even higher.

The proposed new safety performance standard would prevent virtually all serious injuries by requiring table saws to detect contact or proximity between a person and the saw blade, and then perform some action, such as stopping or retracting the blade, before a serious injury occurs. [3]

Recently the PTI circulated a document arguing against the new standard. The document is titled Facts About Table Saw Safety Standards. Unfortunately, that document includes a number of false and misleading statements.

The PTI says the new safety standard would mandate a particular table saw design sold by SawStop.[4] That is simply not true, as can be seen from an examination of the actual language of the proposed standard from the petition.[5] The proposed standard requires a specific level of protection for the user, but is in no way specific as to how that protection must be achieved. It does not, for instance, require that the blade be stopped on detection of user contact with the blade, as happens in SawStop table saws. Instead, any new standard would be a performance standard, not a mandate for a particular technology. The PTI members would be free to develop their own safety technology instead of using SawStop’s design.[6] In fact, PTI members have already developed an alternative injury mitigation system based on retracting rather than stopping the blade and they have built a prototype saw with that technology.[7]

The PTI, however, says they might have to license SawStop patents even if they implement their own design.[8] That would be true only if the PTI includes one of SawStop’s inventions in their design. And even if they do include a SawStop invention in their design, the cost of a royalty would be insignificant when weighed against the benefits of reduced injuries. SawStop has said it will license its inventions for 8% of the wholesale price of the saw.[9] At that rate, for example, the royalty on a saw that sells for $160 wholesale (or about $200 at retail) would be less than $13.

The total cost of complying with the new standard, including any royalty, would average around $100 per saw. In comparison, table saws cause $2.36 billion in harm each year, according to CPSC estimates. That comes out to an average harm per table saw of between $2,200 and $2,600.[10] Those damages could be virtually eliminated by implementation of the new standard, and therefore, the new standard would save over $2,000 per saw. Those benefits clearly outweigh the cost of compliance and easily justify the price increases that might occur on table saws as a result of the new standard. In addition, just as with airbags and other safety technology, the cost of complying will go down over time.

The PTI also says a new standard is unnecessary because “SawStop saws are available to any consumer who chooses to purchase them.”[11] In other words, consumers should be allowed to choose whether to buy safety technology, and if they are injured as a result of their choice, it’s their own fault. Unfortunately, that course imposes a heavy and unnecessary burden on society. Individuals buying saws without injury mitigation technology do not pay all the costs associated with the injuries occurring on those saws; society pays a large portion of those costs through higher insurance premiums, workers’ compensation, disability payments, etc. In short, society heavily subsidizes the cost of table saws by bearing a large portion of the cost of the injuries. The PTI would like to maintain this subsidy to hide the true cost of their products and to keep the price of their saws artificially low. A better solution is to mandate new safety technology and thereby eliminate those costs altogether.

The PTI says the CPSC should reject the proposed new safety standard because its members have developed an improved blade guard. PTI claims they only know of one blade contact injury on a saw equipped with the new guard. However, PTI has also represented to the CPSC that they only know of about 70 table saw accidents a year – just more than one one-thousandth of the number of accidents the CPSC estimates.[12]  Given that the PTI has such a poor ability to learn about accidents on its products, it is not surprising that they report knowing of so few accidents on saws with new guards.

In any event, the new blade guard is not a sufficient solution to the problem because the new guard must be removed for many tasks performed on a table saw, such as cutting a notch in a board. Moreover, many consumers never use the new guard or use it only infrequently. PTI members themselves acknowledge that a large percentage of consumers never use the new blade guard. Black & Decker conducted a survey and about 39% of 77 respondents said they never use the new guard, about 15% said they use it sometimes, about 20% said they use it most of the time, and only about 26% said they use it all the time. Techtronic Industries (makers of Ryobi and Ridgid table saws) conducted a similar survey and 20% of 278 respondents said they never use the new guard, about 14% use it sometimes, around 23% said they use it frequently, and only about 43% said they always use it. Robert Bosch Tool Corporation also conducted a survey and about 18% of 178 respondents said they never use the new guard, about 18% said they use it sometimes, about 24% said they use it frequently, and only 40% use it all the time.[13]

Furthermore, while the new guard may be used more frequently than old guards, nothing about the new guard makes it any safer than old guards when in use. Both guards pivot up to allow a board to contact the blade, and therefore, also pivot up to allow a hand to contact the blade in an accident. This is a common injury scenario, as shown by a recent CPSC study that reports over 30% of accidents on table saws occur with a blade guard in place.[14] Thus, even when the new guard is in use, it still will not address many accidents.[15] It is important note that although the guard may have been in place in 30% of accidents, this does not mean that the other 70% of accidents would have been prevented by a guard. In fact, because guard usage is comparable to the percentage of accidents occurring with a guard, the data indicates that guards do little to reduce the rate of accidents. 

The fact of the matter is, in the last 50 years, PTI-member companies have not come up with a single meaningful advance in safety except for the recent small improvements to blade guards spurred by the advent of SawStop and the PTI-member’s desire to avoid a rule requiring more effective protection.[16] In the meantime, approximately 40,000 people every year continue to be injured. Now that a proven and affordable safety technology exists, the industry is choosing to fight against safer saws rather than embracing them to protect their customers.

In addition to the points discussed above, the PTI has made the following false or misleading statements:

  • The PTI says inexpensive table saws “could increase in price from $100 to approximately $400” and professional benchtop saws “could increase from $500 to approximately $800” if the CPSC adopts the new standard.”[17] That is an exaggeration. Peter Domeny, a PTI representative and past Director of Product Safety for Bosch Corp., testified in a product liability lawsuit that “the cost of putting flesh-detection technology on a transportable, bench-top, belt-driven saw is $55.”[18] Additionally, some SawStop saws sell for the same or slightly less than comparable saws. For example, the SawStop Model PCS31230-TGP252 with 52” rails and fence sells for $2,999 and is comparable to a Delta 36-L352 Unisaw with 52” rails and fence which sells for $3,299.[19]
  • The PTI denigrates the patent system by saying it provides SawStop “a monopolistic advantage.”[20] It is true that patents provide inventors a competitive advantage for a limited period of time, but it is misleading to imply that such protection is bad. To the contrary, the patent system is a time-honored method, based in the U.S. Constitution, for motivating innovation by providing a mechanism for inventors to earn a reasonable return on their research, investment and development. Indeed, all of the PTI members themselves own many, many more patents than SawStop and have themselves benefited from the patent system.
  • The PTI says users of SawStop saws “are nearly five times more likely to contact the SawStop’s saw blade as opposed to an operator of a conventional saw.”[21] That allegation is the result of a math error by the PTI where they assumed that accidents on SawStop saws all occurred in one year, when in fact they occurred over five years. The data actually shows that the accident rate on table saws without injury mitigation technology is approximately 0.7% per year for non‑workplace accidents. The most comparable saw equipped with injury mitigation technology is SawStop’s contractor saw, and the accident rate on SawStop’s contractor saw is also 0.7% per year.[22]
  • The PTI says blade contact technology is dangerous because it promotes decreased guard usage.[23] That allegation amounts to suggesting that saws will be more dangerous if we make them safer and is directly contradicted by common sense as well as real-world data. As of December 2009, 610 people had reported “finger saves” in accidents on SawStop saws and 513 of those people responded to the question of whether they were using a blade guard or riving knife. 70% reported using the blade guard or riving knife. That percentage is higher than the 26% of woodworkers that Black & Decker says always use its new guard, and higher than the 55% of woodworkers that Black & Decker says always use the riving knife when they don’t use the guard. Thus, real-world data shows that people using SawStop saws are no less careful than woodworkers using other saws.[24]
  • The PTI says “SawStop is neither appropriate for all table saws nor does it mitigate injuries caused by kickback or ejected material.” Both assertions are false. First, active injury mitigation technology is technically feasible and economically justified on all different types of table saws. Second, requiring active injury mitigation technology will virtually eliminate serious injuries from blade contact due to kickback. At a presentation to the CPSC in December 2009, SawStop documented 610 “finger saves” on SawStop saws and 75 of those saves involved blade contact due to kickback. In those cases, according to the PTI’s argument, the injuries should have been serious. However, 84% were treated with nothing more than a Band-Aid or in-house first aid, 8% were bandaged at a hospital or clinic or treated by a doctor, and of those treated by a doctor, only 3 received stitches.[25] 


Requesting the Consumer Product Safety Commission

To Initiate Rulemaking for Table Saws

We, the undersigned, hereby petition the Consumer Product Safety Commission under 5 U.S.C. §553(e) and 15 U.S.C. §2058(i) to initiate rulemaking for table saws. We propose a rule substantially as follows:

                Every table saw designed primarily for cutting wood with a blade having a nominal diameter of 12 inches or less shall be equipped with the following:

1)    a detection system capable of detecting contact or dangerous proximity between a person and the saw blade when the saw blade is a) spinning prior to cutting, b) cutting natural wood with a moisture content of up to 50%, c) cutting glued wood with a moisture content of up to 30%, and d) spinning down after turning off the motor;

2)    a reaction system to perform some action upon detection of such contact or dangerous proximity, such as stopping or retracting the blade, so that a person will be cut no deeper than 1/8th of an inch when contacting or approaching the blade at any point above the table and from any direction at a rate of one foot per second;

3)    a self-diagnostic capability to verify functionality of key components of the detection and reaction systems; and

4)    an interlock system with the motor so that power cannot be applied to the motor if a fault interfering with the functionality of a key component in the detection or reaction system is detected.

                The detection and reaction systems shall be designed to function automatically when the saw is turned on, however, the saw may include a bypass function to allow a user to volitionally bypass the system to cut, for example, conductive materials such as aluminum. The detection and reaction systems may be designed to function with only certain saw blades as specified in an operation manual or in markings on the saw.

[1] PTI members include: Hilti, Inc. from Liechtenstein, Hitachi Koki, USA, Ltd. from Japan, Makita U.S.A., Inc. from Japan, Metabo Corporation from Germany, Robert Bosch Tool Corporation from Germany, Stanley Black & Decker Corporation from USA, and Techtronic Industries-North America from Hong Kong.

[2] Survey of Injuries Involving Stationary Saws, Table and Bench Saws, 2007-2008, Sadeq R. Chowdhury, Ph.D., Caroleene Paul, M.S., U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, March 2011, page 3 (79,500 hospital emergency department-treated injuries in the US during 2007-2008); and Hazard Screening Report, Power Tools and Workshop Equipment, Natalie Marcy, George Rutherford, Alberta Mills, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, June 2003, page 13 ($1.966 billion injury and death costs from bench or table saws).

[3] Petition Requesting the Consumer Product Safety Commission to Initiate Rulemaking for Table Saws, Petition No. CP 03-2, April 15, 2003, page 1.

[4] “The [CPSC] is being asked to impose mandatory standards, requiring a specific technology [i.e., SawStop] for all table saws.” Facts About Table Saw Safety Standards, Power Tool Institute, Inc., June 14, 2011, page 1.

[5] The language of the proposed standard is attached at the end of this letter as Appendix 1.

[6] Briefing Package, Petition for Performance Standards for Table Saws, Caroleene Paul, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, June 2006, page 20.

[7] See, e.g., U.S. Patent 7,739,934, titled Detection System for Power Tool, and U.S. Patent 7,628,101, titled Pyrotechnic Drop Mechanism for Power Tools, both owned by the Power Tool Institute. Additionally, Peter Domeny, a PTI representative and past Director of Product Safety for Bosch Corp., was asked during a product liability lawsuit whether Bosch had built a prototype saw with flesh detection technology and Domeny testified: “I know [the joint venture] has created a prototype.”  Osorio v. One World Technologies, Inc., 06-CV-10725 (D. Mass.) (March 1, 2010, trial transcript, day 6, page 156, line 10).

[8] Facts About Table Saw Safety Standards, Power Tool Institute, Inc., June 14, 2011, page 1, and PTI Facts-at-a-Glance, pages 1-2, June 2011.

[9] The PTI incorrectly says SawStop demands an 8% royalty on the retail price of each saw. Facts About Table Saw Safety Standards, Power Tool Institute, Inc., June 14, 2011, page 1. The PTI also says an 8% royalty is “onerous.” Id. However, Ryobi and Emerson (who at the time made Ridgid table saws for Home Depot) both agreed to an 8% royalty. Their agreement shows they considered an 8% royalty reasonable. Unfortunately, both Ryobi and Emerson subsequently decided not to license the technology.

[10] Briefing Package, Petition for Performance Standards for Table Saws, Caroleene Paul, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, June 2006, page 12.

[11] Facts About Table Saw Safety Standards, Power Tool Institute, Inc., June 14, 2011, page 1.

[12] November 2009 PTI presentation to CPSC.

[13] Consumer Product Safety Commission Table Saw Safety Update, Power Tool Institute, Inc., November 2, 2009, slides 15, 18 and 22, documents BOSCH 018213, BOSCH 018216, BOSCH 018220.

[14] Survey of Injuries Involving Stationary Saws, Table and Bench Saws, 2007-2008, Sadeq R. Chowdhury, Ph.D., Caroleene Paul, M.S., U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, March 2011, page 23.

[15] The new blade guard also includes an opening along the top that is supposed to improve visibility of the blade. That opening, however, will also allow particles to be ejected by the blade toward the user’s face. That is the very accident scenario the PTI complained of when saying SawStop technology reduces the use of blade guards and thereby “will result in an increased rate of facial or eye injuries from high velocity particles ejected by the saw blade ….” Facts About Table Saw Safety Standards, Power Tool Institute, Inc., June 14, 2011, page 1.

[16] David Peot, a past representative of PTI and a past Director of Advanced Technologies for Ryobi, testified as follows during a product liability lawsuit: “Q. Was there – was there discussion in meetings of PTI, at which you were present, at which the suggestion was made at PTI that if we can present to the Consumer Product Safety Commission changes in the guard – MR. APPEL: Objection, your Honor. THE COURT: Overruled. Q. – we can argue to the CPSC that they should not adopt SawStop as a safety standard? Do you recall that discussion at meetings at which you were present, sir? A. Yes, I believe I do.”Osorio v. One World Technologies, Inc., Civil Action No. 06-10725-NMG (D. Mass. 2010), trial transcript day 4 at 101:6-15.

[17] Facts About Table Saw Safety Standards, Power Tool Institute, Inc., June 14, 2011, page 1.

[18] “Q. … Hasn’t the joint venture estimated that the cost of putting flesh-detection technology on a transportable, bench-top, belt-driven saw is $55; has it not, sir? A. Absolutely, because it’s a totally different design.”  Osorio v. One World Technologies, Inc., 06-CV-10725 (D. Mass.) (March 1, 2010, trial transcript, day 6, page 161, lines 5-8).

[19] For the price of the SawStop Model PCS31230-TGP252 see “Professional Cabinet Saw 3 HP Price List & Order Form,” SawStop, LLC, Rev. 11/10; for the price of the Delta 36-L352 Unisaw, see amazon.com.

[20] Facts About Table Saw Safety Standards,” Power Tool Institute, Inc., June 14, 2011, page 1.

[21] Id.

[22] CPSC Presentation, SawStop, LLC, December 7-8, 2009, pages 8-9.

[23] Facts About Table Saw Safety Standards,” Power Tool Institute, Inc., June 14, 2011, page 1.

[24] CPSC Presentation, SawStop, LLC, December 7-8, 2009, page 8.

[25] “CPSC Presentation,” SawStop, LLC, December 7-8, 2009, pages 5-6.

Comments (12) Comments are closed
12 Thursday, 15 December 2011 22:45
Arlyn DeBerg
As I know it, SawStop is a great product, but it does not guarantee a precise safe cut. Safety products that are available that work with SawStop or without SawStop and with the millions of saws already in use can be viewed and purchased from the internet. I've personally used these new safety products and will never make another cut on a table saw without them. These tools are not toys. They are manufacture from high grade aluminum and will last a life time. The website is: www.savemsystem.com
11 Monday, 05 December 2011 17:28
Kemper Smith
As has been mentioned, safety equipment can be bypassed or removed now. You must respect what the tool can do to you if you get careless or in a hurry. I do not need to have the Federal Government overseeing how I work nor do I need to be reminded of the fellow so intent on a cut that he almost sawed his fingers off with a bandsaw in a shop class I was in. Are we going to do bandsaws next? Not me.
10 Friday, 02 December 2011 03:56
Richard Erdmann
Most table saw accidents are due to guards being removed or disabled by users such as the recent case involving ryobi and the idiot who lost his fingers. What is to stop some one from disabling the saw stop feature?
9 Friday, 02 December 2011 03:05
Keep government out of my workshop. Keep table saws affordable for all. Table saws as any tool, even my steak knives, poses some degree of potential danger. That is the nature of tools. Care should be used with any tool. Do not add to the cost of an already expensive tool and don't give an unfair advantage to a company that has an improved mousetrap.
8 Thursday, 01 December 2011 15:59
Ralph Ripper
If a $100 consumer grade table saw doubles in price, some may decide to revert to what we did before the $100 table saw: flip a circular saw over and screw it to the underside of a piece of plywood. This is more dangerous than a saw with no safety system. There is always an unintended consequence to over-regulation.

Keep the government out of my workshop. Use a pushstick.
7 Thursday, 01 December 2011 13:07
Alix Cohen
The government needs to stop trying to regulate every aspect of our lives. You cannot regulate carelessness or stupidity. Saw Stop is just plain greedy and is trying to manipulate the system to their benefit. I have not bought one of their products and never will.
6 Wednesday, 30 November 2011 19:06
Lonnie Jeffers
I support the petition. If technology exsist to enhance safety, at moderate cost such as now offered by SawStop, to not enforce this safety feature in a ruling would be a severe failure of industry and government. The industry should embrace this technology, not fight it. Not only should this type of safety feature be required on tablesaws, but also bandsaws and other stationary powered equipment with exposed blades should be included in the ruling. This reminds me of seatbelts in automobiles. The auto industry fought this for many years and the cost of installation was practically nothing in relation to the cost of a car. Would you drive a car without seatbelts? I own a Craftsman contractor table saw, on which I have sustained many 'near misses' and now use it only for dado work. I also own a SawStop table saw and would not consider buying a piece of woodworking equipment without this technology, if offered. What is your hand worth? I sorely wish my band saws were equipped with SawStop technology.
5 Wednesday, 30 November 2011 13:40
The entire argument hinges on the idea that the higher cost of the saws at retail as a result of higher production costs is somehow less expensive than if you distribute the cost of all injuries, divided by saws sold.
This is fundamentally flawed logic. You can not equate insurance-subsidized costs with retail costs. They are different animals. I sure as heck didn't pay an extra $2,400 for my saw. Nor do I pay an extra $2,400 yearly in my insurance premium solely because of table-saw related costs to my insurer.
Then, the argument that we all 'pay' the medical costs anyway through higher premiums or government mandated emergency room treatment. So, to be clear, you want to take an already broken system and double down on it because heck, it makes you feel good?

Get out of business. Get out of people's lives. Let the market dictate this sort of thing. Sawstop itself is living proof that if there is demand for something, it will succeed on its own. No government mandates required.
4 Wednesday, 30 November 2011 13:07
In speaking with other woodworkers that have had table saw injuries, I found one thing pretty much in common. Most have said that a split second before the incident, they felt what they were trying to do was wrong.

The Rigid lawsuit, does not take into account personal responsibility. Clearly, that individual ignored and/or removed all safety guards and was attempting a cut that most would never do.

I agree that the SawStop technology works and individuals have the ability to decide to purchase or not.
3 Tuesday, 29 November 2011 18:11
I think that if there really is a need (and the statistics are looking that way) to make safer table saws then I think the goal should be the same across the board industry wide and that everyone should try to work together on this issue. Sure, if other companies would decide to use SawStop's patent, they'll need to pay for it but that's the nature of business. I think the goal here is safety for all new table saws.

Personally, I'm all for safety devices on equipment as long as they function properly for the intended user. I have a $500 Crafsman contractor's saw and if the intended user is a home builder/remodeler then the saw safety devices work fairly well. However, as a hobbyist woodworker after I started using the saw there were obvious problems with blade guard/riving knife/anti-kickback contraption that came with the saw. The knife would never align properly with the blade and would hinder the wood movement through the cut and the anti-kickback device always dug into a finished planed board too much and would damage the finished piece. It actually felt a little intimidating to use the device for the riving knife problem alone so I ended up removing the entire device. I always use push sticks and feather board but currently do not have any safety devices attached to the saw. I plan to come up with a guard device of my own in the near future.

If all companies are mandated to have some sort of device like SawStop's on their saws and the price goes up I guess we'll all pay for it. But if the safety device(s) are much better in fuction than what I have access to currently, the extra $300 is probably worth it versus the alternative possibility of losing a digit or two. Of course my wife asked the question, what if the Sawstop safety mechanism fails? Women think of everything don't they? ;)
2 Tuesday, 29 November 2011 13:20
Brian Greene
I support the petition.
1 Monday, 31 October 2011 19:06
Adding new standards does nothing for the millions of saws already in use. I doubt that the rate of injuries will drop much. Among new tablesaw owners, yes, but existing owners, not so much.