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Indiana University research: Improving table saw safety is a good investment

August 7, 2014
Bloomington, Indiana --

John D. GrahamAdding automatic safety protection devices to table saws would prevent injuries and, despite the initial cost, save money in the long run, according to a new risk-benefit analysis co-authored by an Indiana University researcher.

Table saws with their razor-sharp, fast-rotating blades can be dangerous whether used in basement workshops or at construction sites. In the U.S., a government estimate associates the saws with approximately 28,000 emergency room visits and 2,000 cases of finger amputation per year.

Most saws sold in the U.S. are outfitted with safety devices that are optional in the same way that safety belt use is a matter of choice for motorists. At least one manufacturer now offers an automatic blade-stopping device, and others are in the experimental stage. Using sensors to detect skin in a danger zone, they protect woodworkers by moving the blade out of harm’s way and can’t be easily disengaged, similar to the way airbags protect drivers.

Estimates from various sources conclude the devices prevent between 80 and 99 percent of all blade-related table saw injuries. The cost of adding an automatic safety system to a saw is about $150.

The authors estimate that each dollar spent on automatic protection generates more than $5 in benefits from reduced health care costs, fewer lost work days and less pain and suffering. The benefits are shared by consumers, taxpayers, employers and insurers.

“We encourage business and industry to explore commercialization of automatic protection systems,” said study co-author John D. Graham, dean of the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs. “Automatic systems are likely to increase the retail prices of saws significantly, but the benefits are significantly larger than the costs.”

About 700,000 new saws are sold annually in the U.S. Most are portable bench-top models retailing for $100 to $500 or contractor saws with light-duty legs selling in the $500 to $1,500 range.

The research by Graham and Joice Chang of Humboldt State University is published in the August 2014 issue of the journal Risk Analysis. Chang earned her doctoral degree at SPEA and is a former member of the SPEA faculty.

The authors also suggest more research be conducted into the payoff from investments in automatic protection for other power tools such as chainsaws, circular saws and nail guns, some of which have even higher injury rates than table saws.

The research was funded by two law firms in connection with litigation on behalf of insurers and injured table saw users. The authors were entirely responsible for the design of the study, the analysis, the conclusions and the preparation of the article.