Every year, thousands of people are injured by table saw blades. Amateur and professional woodworkers alike suffer everything from cuts to amputations while using table saws. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission believes the product does not have to be as dangerous, though, as an Oregon man’s invention has proven.

The invention is just one point of contention between the CPSC and the power tool industry. The industry thinks the CPSC’s recent vote for stricter safety standards for table saws is a step in the wrong direction for consumers, manufacturers and retailers.

The Power Tool Institute, a trade association that numbers major manufacturers among its members, says tough new standards will increase table saw prices dramatically. The cost will be so high, the association says, that the tools will be out of reach for many amateurs.

The CPSC argues that improved safety measures may be costly to manufacturers and consumers, but the number and nature of the injuries warrant the changes. The human cost is high, said an agency representative, and the out-of-pocket costs are “eye-popping.”

An injury, especially a serious injury, will result in medical costs and time off from work, as well as product liability litigation costs and non-economic damage awards. The CPSC’s research shows that each injury costs about $35,000 — that translates into $2.36 billion per year.

In comparison, an average injury related to a dangerous or defective consumer product costs about $22,000. Neither the CPSC nor the Power Tool Institute offered an estimate of the cost to modify table saws, to either the manufacturer or the consumer.

When the CPSC announced its recommendation, the Institute expressed concern that regulators would require manufacturers to adopt the Oregon inventor’s safety device. SawStop stops the blade when it comes into contact with skin.

The Institute said it would be unjust to demand that manufacturers use this one safety device. The federal government would essentially be creating a monopoly. And, the Institute noted, manufacturers have already rejected the technology — again, based on increased costs to consumers.

The debate will soon include regulators. The CPSC did not include a deadline with their recommendation.

Source: Wall Street Journal, “Move Toward Tougher Safety Standards for Table Saws,” Melanie Trottman, Oct. 5, 2011