Reduced amputation injury risk for San Diego students if Commission acts fast

Woodworking has been my hobby for the past 12 years.   When I’m woodworking, I

Signs are inadequate when safe design alternatives exist.

leave the demands of an active law practice behind, because woodworking commands my attention. I have been fortunate, because during that time, I’ve had no real injuries to speak of.

Many fellow woodworkers, including many high school students, have been less fortunate. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 40,000 Americans wind up in hospital emergency rooms with table saw-related injuries every year, and 4,000 of these involve amputations!

The tragedy of these amputation injuries is worse because they have been largely preventable for the past decade. A U.C. San Diego physicist developed a system which could tell the difference between wood and flesh and then apply a brake which stops a spinning blade faster than the eye can see!  For reasons which defy adequate explanation, the major table saw manufacturers turned him away when he approached them about incorporating this safety feature into their products. More than ten years later, his company remains the only one utilizing this technology.

Hopefully that will be changing soon. The Commission has indicated it will address whether this technology should be incorporated into all table saws in the future.

I expect fierce opposition.  Unfortunately too many woodworkers out in the blogosphere are too quick to blame amputation injuries solely on the operator and prattle on about “personal responsibility” in the face of the industry’s failure of accountability when proven technology has been available long enough. While it would be nice if manufacturers improved their products on their own, history shows it sometimes takes government action to bring about safety change, like airbags, seatbelts, and child safety seats.

Workers have to deal with job-site demands to get work done faster or risk their employment. Defects in wood and distractions beyond the operators control will always exist, especially in the high school woodshop. At the San Diego Child Injury Law Center, we know how devastating amputation injuries can be  and how product design should always be at the forefront in eliminating preventable injuries.  The country shouldn’t have to wait another ten years and risk another 40,000 preventable amputations before changes are made.

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