Manufacturers of power saws are facing a growing number of lawsuits after deciding not to adopt technology that will stop a saw from slicing off fingers, NPR reports.
Every year, 3,000 Americans lose fingers and thumbs to saws, and another 30,000 make trips to the emergency room for related accidents. But a safety device called the SawStop can prevent the injuries by automatically shutting off the blade of a saw when it gets too close to fingers:
The SawStop saw induces a very slight electrical current on the blade that is monitored by a computer chip inside the saw. Wood does not conduct electricity — but your finger does. The saw can sense the difference between the two and trigger a safety brake.
When the safety brake is triggered, the blade slams down into the table and away from the person’s hand.
Steve Gass, an entrepreneur and patent attorney, invented the device about 10 years ago, but has been unable to convince big power tool manufacturers to use the technology.
“They came back and said, ‘Well, we’ve looked at it, but we’re not interested because safety doesn’t sell,’ ” Gass told NPR. “What a crazy attitude.”
Now, lawyers at a high-powered firm called Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP are suing manufacturers on behalf of people who have injured themselves on power saws, claiming companies have been negligent because they have not adopted safety products like the SawStop. The firm has already won a $1.5 million case against power tool company Ryobi.
For its part, the industry said it is committed to improving the safety of its products.
“The members of the Power Tool Institute continue to devote substantial time and resources in the research, development, testing and implementation of improved table saw guard designs and other safety measures,” the group’s spokesperson said in a statement.
But this may not be enough for federal regulators. The chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission had hoped the safety device would be voluntarily adopted by the industry, and may take action if it is not.
“I believe that if we don’t see a voluntary standard soon, that we should look at making this product a part of our rule making so we can build that in as part of a mandatory standard,” Inez Tenenbaum told NPR. “If we have something that can prevent injury, we need to act upon it now.”