Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Keeping you from Cutting your Finger Off

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is considering mandating SawStop technology on future table saws. Ben Blatt at The Age does a good job of laying out the issues and providing some numbers. The technology to drop the blade out of harm's way within a few milliseconds is amazing (see video). My table saw is the scariest piece of equipment in this woodworker's shop. 

Let's see if this mandate might be worth it. The article in The Age reports that table saws cause 4,300 amputations every year, more than thousands of other products combined. Almost all of these will be fingers. Maximum workers compensation values for a lost finger range from 20 weeks of pay (a pinky) to 45 weeks (an index finger). The average carpenter's compensation is $63,149 per year or $1,214 per week. This means that if all amputations were prevented a maximum value of the savings would be $24,288-$54,648 per accident, or about $104-$234 million in aggregate. 

The Age also reports that 675,000 table saws are purchased in the US and that the CPSC estimates that the technology would add $338 to $1,210 in costs per table saw. This implies total cost increases of $228-$817 million. So the costs of the mandate are two to three times the maximum benefit.

But it is worse than this. A mandate eliminates choice. SawStop is already available on the market but only has a 2% market share. Those who value this technology can purchase it. Those who place a lower value on it can choose not to. The mandate implies that the government knows better than the 98% of practicing woodworkers and carpenters who have opted out. This little back-of-the-envelope calculation confirms my own decision not to purchase a SawStop. This may be a case for more information disclosure rather than a product mandate.

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