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Table Saw Safety Act Heads to California Senate

July 16, 2012 — The California State Senate Judiciary Committee has voted 3-2 to allow the Table Saw Safety Act to go before a vote in the California Senate. The bill already passed in the lower house by an overwhelming 64-4 decision, and if the Senate passes the act, it will require all new table saws manufactured for sale in California to have flesh-sensing safety technology by 2015. The bill was sponsored by Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara).

The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) has been deliberating whether to require the safety technology on all table saws, but has failed to make a decision for more than a decade. The Power Tool Institute, a lobbying group for various table saw manufacturers and retailers, has aggressively fought new regulations that would require the safety equipment. Opponents of the bill say that table saws are safe when used properly, and the added cost of safety equipment would make table saws too expensive for some hobbyists.

Advocates for the flesh-sensing technology say that it would add only $100 to the cost of every saw, and could prevent thousands of injuries. The CPSC estimates that 67,000 people receive emergency room treatment for table saw and bench-top injuries every year, costing $2.3 billion. Approximately 3,500 people suffer amputations.

The flesh-sensing technology, known as SawStop, works by running a low electrical current through the saw blade. If the blade comes in contact with flesh, the electrical current drops, a computer processor senses the drop, and triggers a braking mechanism that stops the blade and retracts it into the machine. The SawStop can shut down the machine in one-hundredth of a second.

Opponents of the bill say that SawStop is the only company that makes the safety equipment, and if the bill were passed, SawStop would have an unfair, lucrative monopoly for the patent owners.

The inventor of the SawStop is Oregon attorney Stephen Gass, who created the SawStop in his barn. His company, SD3, is recognized as the only company that manufactures a safety device that meets the specifications in the Table Saw Safety Act. Gass has pledged to license his invention, which includes more than 90 patents, at a reasonable price.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the Senate likely will not vote on the matter until August.

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