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Agency Considers Table Saw Safety Standards

WASHINGTON (CN) - The Consumer Product Safety Commission is asking for public comments on whether it should adopt new safety standards for table saws, which it says cause nearly 70,000 injuries per year.

The agency action is in response to a 2003 petition by Stephen Gass inventor of the SawStop, which said that table saws are inherently dangerous even when they meet existing voluntary safety standards.

Most table saws use guards to prevent user contact with the blade, but the agency said that these are frequently disabled to allow greater control of the object being cut.

Gass' technology uses an electrical current running through the blade to detect when the blade comes into contact with skin - which carries an electrical charge - and a heavy aluminum brake to stop the blade within 3-5 milliseconds, according to the SawStop Web site.

The agency first took up Gass' petition in 2006, voting 2-1 to initiate the rulemaking process. However the effort stalled when former Consumer Product Safety Commission Chairman Hal Stratton left the agency.

In a statement released Oct. 5 when the commissioners voted to restart the rulemaking process, the current chair, Inez Taenenbaum, voiced her disappointment that industry had done little to voluntarily address the concerns raised by the 2006 vote.

"Last year, I called on the table saw industry to address this hazard through the voluntary standards process and work to prevent the needless injuries that occur each and every day. Despite my public urging for the power tool industry to make progress voluntarily on preventing these injuries, no meaningful revisions to the voluntary standard were made."

The agency estimates that, on average, between 2001 and 2008 there were 36,400 emergency room treated saw injuries. The agency took a closer look at injuries in 2007 and 2008 and estimated that that there were 67,300 medically treated blade contact injuries in each of those years, with an associated cost of $2.36 billion per year.

Public comments are due by Dec. 12, 2011, and the agency is particularly interested in comments on whether it should move forward with a mandatory standard or if a voluntary standard could be developed to meet its safety concerns, as well as information on the various technologies available.

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