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TMFPostOfTheDay (< 20)

Can't We Just Outlaw Stupidity?

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June 22, 2011 – Comments (9)

Location: TMFCop's CAPS Blog

Author: TMFCop

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 table saw 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.

 

9 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On June 22, 2011 at 12:33 PM, FelixHoenikker (< 20) wrote:

One of the reasons we got to this point with table saws is that the manufacturers have done a poor job with previoius safety devices. From the saws I worked with over the years, the only function of the safety that I could imagine was to appease the lawyers. In some situations, these safety devices made the saw more dangerous by blocking your sight while not effectively preventing your hand from touching the blade.

When I took  cabinet making courses at the local tech school in the mid 80's, the first thing the instructor did was to remove the guard  when teaching the newbies how to use a table saw. He expained that it was too difficult to use as designed. In fact, it looked like an afterthought. It may have been installed on orders from the school board. In any case, it was junk.

The instructor took enough time to show how to use the table saw without getting you hands close to the spinning blade by using pushers if the board was too narrow to push by hand. Following this advice, I have never had as much as a near miss in the ensuing 25 years.

If this law passes, I'm getting a new table saw before it's too late.

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#2) On June 22, 2011 at 12:34 PM, Jbay76 (< 20) wrote:

If we did outlaw stupid, than GWB would be outlawed, many politicians would as well.  In fact, one can argue that we all do some stupid stuff at one point of our lives.  I think the difference is the outcome, some get arrested, DUI's, slapped in the face mid-way through a date, get divorced, lose money, end up married, etc.

What I think is an injustice is that this device, while providing more safety, is not market ready.  The fact that you have to replace the entire unit really makes it very expensive.  Why not just replace a fuse that shorts everytime instead?  Gass not only piggybacked on government to make his profit, but he also wants to "gass" the market as well with this problem.  What does he care, his motive is massive profits via safety, not safety itself.

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#3) On June 22, 2011 at 12:46 PM, TMFBreakerRob (81.00) wrote:

I've yet to meet someone who isn't stupid from time to time....although one might argue some folks may be stupid all the time.  What do you do about that if you outlaw stupid?  Enforce some kind of penalty?  No, that's the key....lots of "stupid" has its own built-in penalty.  Guilty....and instant "sentence".

For power tools, I have a carpenter friend who has permanently partially incapacitated himself through carelessness....sliced through tendons on his hand.  I'm not surprised, I've seen him bring the blade of his circular saw to a halt by resting his finger against the side of the blade.  He shrugged off my concerned comment.  I've seen many carpenters using circular saws after removing safety devices...seems crazy to me.

Anyway....I appreciate the info.  I've wanted a table saw...looks like I better put it on my Christmas list!  And you can bet I'll be careful!

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#4) On June 22, 2011 at 1:53 PM, chk999longonly (99.43) wrote:

I bet that used table saws from before the required "safety" device will go up in price.

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#5) On June 22, 2011 at 3:33 PM, TMFMoosie (< 20) wrote:

More regulation, that's what we need. And less personal responsibility.

 I use a table saw, without any safety devices. They get in the way. I've done this for 30 years without any problem. Sure, I could be cutting, and have a hornet fly into my ear, and I'll lop off a finger. But I will not blame the saw company, the lumberyard, the electric company, the hornet spray manufacturer, etc.

It's a saw for goodness sake. Don't put your hand in it. Pretty soon it'll be against the law to go out of the house without a bubble-wrap body suit, in case you fall down.

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#6) On June 22, 2011 at 7:42 PM, oncqueen (73.70) wrote:

     It is only the sawblade and the brake that must be replaced if activated, not the whole saw.  That's about $70 for the brake plus whatever your blade cost.  You do NOT have to have the whole unit replaced.  The cost is therefore way less than an ER trip, even if surgery is not required.  I think to blame the inventor is not fair; I think much of the blame should also be towards the other manufacturers who put profits ahead of safety; they had a chance to adopt it but just hoped it would die and no one would notice.  The Delta folks just did a major redesign of their saw and still chose not to include it, even though it would have only added about $100 to the price of a $3500 saw (industrial, the professional is around $2700).

     The Saw Stop tied with the new Delta Unisaw in one of the woodworking magazines lately, I think Fine Woodworking,  It is a top qualtiy saw, so there is nothing to "give up" in return for the safety mechanism.  They did it right, knowing that if it was not a qualtiy saw, woodworkers would not accept it.  The cost of the saw is comparable to the Delta Unisaw, so the whole thing is no more expensive.

     This seems akin to complaining about having to wear a seatbelt.  That probably ups the cost of a car, also.  Same for air bags,  Or antilock brakes.   Or safeties on guns.  These are all reasonably inexpensive things that can help prevent a catastrophic outcome.

     I think it's not so much an issue of simple "stupidity" but rather a split second of carelessness or distraction.  How many of us have not been surprised, sneezed, or had a hand cramp at a bad time?  To say is "cheaper" to outlaw stupid is silly---it is way more expensive to deal with a severed finger----we all pay for that, too, whether it is via rates going up for insurers or taxes for medicaid and medicare.

     My spouse replaced his excellent, 3 year old saw when the Saw Stop came out.  It's a wonderful machine and I am happier given that our 16-year-old is a new woodworker.  I think that if you had a business that employed a few woodworkers, you would have to be insane not to get a Saw Stop, just for liablities' sake; the same for school programs.

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#7) On June 22, 2011 at 8:24 PM, Goofyhoofy (< 20) wrote:

I guess there is no rant too stupid to include the McDonald's "Hot Coffee" example. For the record (for the 3,000th time), McDonald's had over 700 prior injuries - both customers and employees - because they insisted on serving the coffee at scalding temperatures. Where most coffee is served around 160 degrees, McDonald's was serving it at 190. There is an "expectation" on the part of people that coffee will not burn your lips off when you drink it (much less carry it between your legs), and McDonald's violated that expectation repeatedly.

Indeed, they had settled dozens of lawsuits and still made no changes in their procedures, and it was only when someone would NOT settle, huge damages were awarded, that TPTB at McDonald's decided maybe they could serve coffee at a temperature a reasonable person might expect. 

If I buy a ladder, I have a reasonable expectation that the stairs will hold me. McDonald's coffee is less "regulated", except that it turns out to be by the courts, rather than the exceptionally stupid management.

PS: I wonder if you rail against regulations which has, for instance, mandated safety belts in cars? Inspection of meat? (Several thousands are sick, almost 50 dead in Europe from uninspected vegetables. Like that lack of regulation?) How about not using lead paint on children's toys? Why not let wonderful corporations do that, and let stupid parents suffer the consequences?

Yes, you can't outlaw stupid. If you did, your post wouldn't exist ;) 

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#8) On June 22, 2011 at 9:06 PM, 4thebird (< 20) wrote:

I use my saw guard every time.  it has the antikick back fins on it.  When I can not see, I stop and clean it.  What is so hard about that?

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#9) On June 23, 2011 at 11:16 AM, NajdorfSicilian (99.88) wrote:

Tell Inez to go after Barry, who evidently thinks ATMs are causing job loss. You can't fix stupid.

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