Amateur woodworkers often are badly hurt, losing fingers or suffering mangled hands, in accidents with table saws.

Yet calls by consumer advocates for a mandatory safety standard have been cut down for years by the power tool industry. The industry argues that such a mandate could as much as quadruple the price of some saws and that safety guards that manufacturers started installing in 2007 already protect users.

But after years of inaction, the Consumer Protect Safety Commission on Wednesday voted 5-0 to begin looking at ways to reduce table saw injuries.

As The Associated Press reports, the agency estimates that consumers have suffered about 67,300 injuries annually in recent years from the saws.  The economic cost — including medical expenses, time lost from work, and pain and suffering — is estimated at more than $2 billion a year.

“The injuries resulting from the use of table saws are, in many cases, particularly gruesome,” said Inez Tenenbaum, who heads the commission.

As a result of Wednesday’s vote, regulators will take public comments for 60 days and then consider possible safety requirements.

A key point of contention is a safety device called the SawStop that prevents injuries by automatically shutting off the blade when the equipment senses it is too close to a person’s finger. As Bloomberg reports, the device’s inventor, Stephen Gass , petitioned the CPSC more than eight years ago to consider his technology after being turned down by power tool companies on licensing deals.

The Power Tool Institute, the trade group representing the industry, has argued that requiring Gass’ patented technology would give him a monopoly. Tool manufacturers say they also have developed a flesh-sensing technology — but they contend that the dozens of patents that Gass holds prevent them from moving forward with their own version.

The Wall Street Journal noted that the CPSC vote came despite the Obama administration’s pledge to try to ease costly regulations and followed a recent commission report that, for the first time, acknowledged that the systems available to improve saw safety appear expensive.


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