Can't We Just Outlaw Stupidity?
One of my hobbies is woodworking. I build furniture, cabinets, decorative pieces mostly, some yard projects like pergolas, and have even built a few structures like sheds and garages. The common denominator in all of them though is they require the use of sometimes dangerous power tools: chop saws, table saws, drills, reciprocating saws, nail guns, etc.
You need to have a healthy respect for the danger they impose because it's all too easy to become complacent when you've got a saw blade spinning several thousand times a minute just waiting to slice off an appendage, and not necessarily with a smooth cut.
Maybe because I was taught proper safety procedures when I was young, but I've never had a serious injury. Whacked my thumb with a hammer more times than I care to remember, but I still have all 10 digits I was born with and the requisite number of limbs.
The point of this post is that not everyone has been so lucky. Or smart. In fact, some people are just plain stupid. And now Stanley Black & Decker (NYSE: SWK), Sears Holdings (Nasdaq: SHLD), Emerson Electric (NYSE: EMR), Ryobi, and other table saw makers have to pay the price. Make that, consumers will have to pay the price.
Inventor Steve Gass made an pretty awesome safety device that upon sensing that a spinning blade has touched flesh, it immediately stops the blade. It has the potential to save hundreds if not thousands of careless woodworkers and weekend warriors from losing limbs or digits.
Gass tried to sell the licensing to his patented technology to the tool makers but for whatever reason -- most likely price -- every single one balked. Gass ended up making his own table saw, the Saw Stop. He's had some middling success selling them on the market, most likely because they are super expensive. Of course, you might like to think that saving yourself from losing a few fingers is worth the extra upfront expense.
Apparently not. One of the drawbacks of the Saw Stop is that it disables the saw. As in completely inoperable until you replace the Saw Stop device. It's a great device that ultimately ruins your tools.
But let's not let free choice get in the way of government's desire to regulate safety. Since we apparently can't outlaw stupid -- yes, that cup of McDonald's coffee is hot, so you might not want to put it between your legs where it might spill -- the government is mandating the toolmakers install Gass's technology.
Throughout hearings that were held, proponents of the tough, new regulations invariably were those who were seriously injured by the tool. Yet as critics have properly noted, to a man the outcomes were all the result of their own stupidity. The saws themselves were not defective, but rather the safety devices the manufacturers installed -- the blade guards, riving knives, etc. -- were removed and then the person put their hand, arm, or whatever into the path of the blade, whether to catch a piece of falling wood, grab a piece of wood, or whatever. It was their own stupid actions that led to the injury. But for those of us who practice safe woodworking, we'll end up having to pay the cost.
The Consumer Products Safety Commission Chairwoman Inez Tenenbaum has directed her staff to draft a new tablesaw safety regulation package, which will be released for public comment in September. So the regulations are coming, and so are higher prices for tools. Table saws anyway. Gass estimates the Saw Stop will add about $100 to the price of a saw, but manufacturers say it's going to cost a lot more than that. Plus, if the device is triggered, it's going to cost you big bucks to replace it.
Realize, there is no other option available. Saw makers will have to install the device on each and every saw they sell. Say buh-bye! to all the low end saws. There just won't be a market for them anymore. They'll fail ot exist.
I give credit to Gass for developing this incredible technology. It is truly remarkable and you'd think at least on some of their high-end saws manufacturers would have installed the device on a few models. What I begrudge him, though, is trying to win in the court room (or the regulator's back room) what he could not achieve in the marketplace.
The Saw Stop is an awesome advance in safety. But that does not mean the government should mandate every tablesaw come with it regardless of cost, the decimation of affordable, low-end tools, and future expenses from having to replace the device once its triggered.
It just might be easier -- and cheaper -- to outlaw stupid.