The Table Saw Industry Embraces Flesh Detection Technology
June 12, 2015
By Arthur Bugay
“Saw Stop” flesh detection safety has now become generally accepted by the table saw industry. Last year, I toured my son’s vocational tech school and was pleased to see that its wood shop included Saw Stop safety saws. Not all schools are so good to their students; many still use conventional unsafe table saws to teach their students.
Flesh detection table saws, designed, manufactured and sold by Saw Stop, an Oregon table saw manufacturer, stop the blade within a quarter turn if contacted by the operator. Its technology has already saved thousands from suffering grievous amputation injuries.
I became familiar with this technology and these saws, along with its inventor, Stephen Gass, over 15 years ago, when I represented a man who had suffered multiple amputations using a horizontal band saw. While researching my case, I discovered this amazing safety feature for wood cutting table saws, invented by Mr. Gass, an Oregon patent attorney with a Ph.D. in physics. The Saw Stop table saw is equipped with flesh detection technology, based on component technology that was available since before Sputnik (1957). The only difference is that it took until 1999 when Mr. Gass, a man who had grown up using woodworking tools, incorporated that technology with other available technology to develop a flesh detecting safety brake for table saws.
The technology works by using a sensor to detect a change in electric current on the blade, caused by contact with human flesh (we all carry an electric charge). Once detected, Saw Stop shoves an aluminum brake into the bottom of the whirling saw blade to stop it almost instantaneously – – within 3 milliseconds, fast enough to turn what would have been a life changing amputation injury into a harmless nick.
By 2004, Saw Stop had produced its first saw for the market. By 2014, 10 years later, Saw Stop had compiled a list of over 2000 finger saves; it averted what would have been multiple amputations from user contact with a running saw blade into harmless nicks, which healed with a Band-Aid or less 95% of the time.
The table saw industry is well aware of Saw Stop technology and it has been running scared since August 2000 when it first saw a prototype table saw which incorporated the technology at an Atlanta, Georgia trade show. The prototype saw cut through wood as one would have expected. However, when a hot dog was pushed through the blade, while being held by the user’s hand, the blade instantaneously stopped when it contacted the hot dog resulting in only a small nick in the hot dog. Many have seen this demonstration shown in video. See video at galfandberger.com.
Thereafter, Saw Stop attempted to license flesh detection technology on its patent to members of the table saw industry that had no similar technology for its table saws. They were not interested. Without pressure from their controlled industry sources, the Power Tool Industry Lobby simply had no economic incentive to make their table saws safer. Instead, the table saw industry was busy selling hundreds of thousands of table saws in the United States ranging between 800,850 units in 2006 to 429,000 in 2010. In 2014 average annual shipments of table saws totaled approximately 700,000 units with the largest manufacturers in the United States being responsible for approximately 85% of this market share.
By 2004, with a table saw on the market with flesh detection technology and theirs not having such technology, there was a real threat to table saw manufacturers in the marketplace. Products liability law firms like Galfand Berger, began filing lawsuits, stating that table saws sold without flesh detection were defective. Several lawsuits resulted in multimillion dollar verdicts. By 2014, the table saw industry changed its statements about flesh detection technology; they could no longer say it was technologically infeasible. Instead, they claimed that users simply did not want to buy this safety feature and that they were providing a product that the consumer wanted- a product without a critical safety device.
This is like car manufacturers claiming that they want to sell cars without seatbelts because of the added expense or without airbags. However, car manufacturers do not have that option. Safety should not be sold at an extra price; it should be a standard feature for every product. Table saws are not an exception to this rule of law.
Injuries caused by table saws without flesh detection are severe. They include severe lacerations (approximately 65.9% of the injuries), fractures (12.4 % of the injuries), amputations (12% of the injuries) and avulsions (8.5% of the injuries), which is the forceable tearing away of a body part by trauma. Estimates for the costs for table saw accidents range from $2.36 billion per year in the United States or approximately $35,000.00 per injury. By one estimate, each table saw on the market without flesh detection generates approximately $2,000.00 in societal costs over its ten year product lifetime. While a typical market price for low range table saws is from $250.00 to $500.00, on average, each table saw actually costs society approximately 4-8 times as much in injury related accident costs, substantially more than the listed retail price.
In actuality, the table saw industry’s argument is like permitting a polluter to not recognize the costs associated with their manufacturing process and instead passing on 100% of this cost to the people actually harmed by their production process. Fortunately, products liability law shifts these costs back to the manufacturer through the doctrine of strict liability.
Since 2004, Saw Stop table saws have now grown in market share because contrary to the table saw manufacturing industry, people want the assurance of flesh detection blade safety. Saw Stop is now the top seller of cabinet table saws. Now that they have become so popular, contrary to their prior hard line, the United States table saw industry has responded by introducing their own flesh detection alternatives – made by the same manufacturers who have previously stated in litigation that Saw Stop technology was infeasible both from a technical standpoint and from an economic standpoint.
In March 2015, Bosch introduced a portable jobsite table saw that incorporates flesh detection technology “to help reduce potential user injury.” The Bosch GTS1041A REAXX table saw “takes user safety to the next level, and saves the blade too.” The manufacturer advertises that its saw “rapidly detects human flesh that comes in contact with the blade and drops the saw blade below the table top. This high speed action helps reduce the potential of serious user injury and occurs without damaging the blade.” With new entries in the marketplace, the price of these saws will fall. One clear way to make this price drop more quickly is to require manufacturers to sell their table saws with flesh detection. Products liability law is usually ahead of the statutory or regulatory curve with regard to safety. This is the point of strict products liability. As more manufacturers make these saws, the total price per unit will also fall; this is simple economics.
In Pennsylvania, it has long been the law that manufacturers and sellers of products must make their products “as safe as possible, as soon as possible.” Table saws provide no exception to this strict liability rule of law. If you have been injured on a table saw that has not been equipped with flesh detection technology, you may have a cause of action against the manufacturer and seller. Call a personal injury lawyer in Philadelphia at Galfand Berger; we can help you with this legal claim. Call us at 800-222-8792 or contact us online.