The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) aimed at improving table saw safety for consumers and professionals. Applicable to power tools such as bench saws, contractor saws and cabinet saws, the ANPR could result in mandatory safety standards. CPSC requests comments by December 12, 2011, on issues such as injury risks, regulatory alternatives and economic impacts of various alternatives.

Citing data from a CPSC study conducted in 2007 and 2008, commission staff claim that U.S. consumers experienced approximately 67,300 medically treated table saw blade contact injuries at a cost of $2.36 billion in each of those two years. Based on that data, CPSC staff estimate that hospital emergency rooms treat on a daily basis an average of 11 fractures, 11 amputations and eight avulsions, a process in which a body part is torn away, not cut, due to contact with a saw blade.  

CPSC Chair Inez Tenenbaum issued a statement saying the commission voted unanimously to initiate the proposed rule after the table saw industry failed to voluntarily take steps to prevent injuries. Commissioner Robert Adler released a statement suggesting that “flesh-sensing technology” may help manufacturers prevent table saw injuries. “On this point,” he wrote, “I note that when CPSC writes product safety standards, we do not mandate a particular technology. We write performance standards and leave it to manufacturers to decide how to meet them.”

According to CPSC, existing Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations on table saw safety do not adequately protect home consumers. “Professional woodworkers are more likely to have had training and to be experienced in performing any special or complex operations with the saw and are more likely to recognize situations and set-ups that may be dangerous or require extra care and caution,” CPSC said. “Amateur woodworkers generally have little or no safety training, nor training in the proper use of the table saw.” See Federal Register, October 11, 2011; CPSC News Release, October 17, 2011.