Table saws, chop saws, radial arm saws, circular saws—no matter what type or style you may have in your workshop, they all have two things in common: they don’t discriminate when it comes to who they injure, and they can be dangerous if not operated properly.
A 2009 study by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) concluded that between January 1, 2007, and January 1, 2008, there were approximately 79,500 table saw injuries treated in emergency rooms across the U.S. Of these injuries, the operator was the victim 95.7% of the time with the youngest being an 11 year old. The types of injuries ranged from lacerations, which made up 65% of the injuries, to amputations, making up 10.5%. The remaining injuries were fractures suffered by the operator.
If you were to buy a table saw today, you would find that it comes with safety features that would never have been seen on saws made 40 years ago. One of the most basic is a blade guard, which is designed to do exactly that: guard the blade from any accidental contact. Unfortunately, this type of guard is usually clear plastic, which after many hours of use, becomes dirty, scratched, and difficult to see through. It can also be easily removed with no effect on the saw’s operation. Many people feel that it is only a nuisance, and since they have not yet touched the blade guard, there is no way they will come close to the blade. About 70% of the losses noted above had no guard at all. Make sure that the blade guards on your table saws are left on the machines and are kept in good condition.
Another type of safety feature, which is actually not a physical guard at all, is a “Flesh Sensing Safety Device.” These are designed to sense the electrical conductivity in an operator’s skin, which is then transferred to a braking system in the saw itself, stopping the blade in less than one-thousandth of a second (see sawstop.com). This may be costly but is a lot cheaper than an amputation or other serious injury.
But table saws aren’t the only types of saws that can cause injuries. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reported that there were over 483 workplace injuries from skill saws in 2012. Although this does not compare to the overall number of table saw injuries, imagine the actual cost from an employer’s point of view when you consider injured employees, lost production time, and medical and Workers Compensation costs.
Although we know that it would be very difficult to completely stop these injuries from occurring tomorrow, there are certainly ways that you can reduce the probability of one happening in your operation.
Being aware of the hazards of using this type of equipment and training employees on these hazards are keys. Ensure that the device is operated within the specifications and limits designed by the manufacturer, and continually research new safety devices to protect your operators from potential contact.
Keep your employees out of the emergency room and in the workshop where they belong by staying on the cutting edge of power saw safety!
Loss Control Representative