There are 60,000 table saw accidents every year — roughly one every 10 minutes. Most involve the blade and result in amputations of two or three fingers. Reattachment is dicey. Sometimes, in the shock of the moment, victims don’t think to look for the severed fingertips; sometimes they find them but they’re too mangled to be viable; and sometimes the surgery — about four hours per finger — doesn’t work.

The immediate cost of a workplace amputation averages about $45,000; the potential lifetime medical cost is $400,000 and up. The first year after an amputation, workers’ comp premiums go up about $50,000, and settling out-of-court typically costs more than a million dollars. Then your insurance company drops you.

And if you think it’s just weekend warriors who are cutting off their fingers, think again: most injuries are to professionals with 10 years of experience or more. Familiarity breeds complacency and carelessness.

Smart, not Stupid

There’s good news: a couple of technologies can prevent table-saw amputations. The best known is owned by a company called SawStop. Pending California legislation and a Consumer Product Safety Commission review could make this kind of technology standard equipment on every table saw. And there’s bad news: it adds expense and it might create a monopoly. Manufacturers are resisting. They don’t want rules that favor a competitor and make their own tools more expensive.

I can understand that. What puzzles me is why a remodeler would be unwilling to pay more for a technology that prevents table-saw amputations? It’s even more puzzling because it would eliminate the need for the almost universally hated blade guard (although kickback and eye protection would still be required).

It’s easy to be against regulation. Regulation makes your business life more complicated and more expensive. It’s so much simpler to be against it. Sometimes, in fact, it’s everyone’s duty to resist regulations that don’t make any sense. But there is also a duty to support sensible regulations, even at a cost to yourself. That’s the hard part of being a professional.

So why should you pay more for a table saw when the odds of an amputation happening to you are low? Probability makes smart people stupid. The probability of being struck by lightning in a given year is one in a million, but it’s still stupid to climb onto a roof during a thunderstorm. The odds for cutting off your fingers with a table saw are small, but it’s still stupid to use the tool without a guard. And it’s especially stupid not to use the guard if they’re not your fingers and are instead the fingers of your employees and colleagues.

It’s even more stupid to fail to embrace a technology that offers protection against amputation that is virtually foolproof.

Ask not where the finger points, it points at you.


—Sal Alfano, editorial director, REMODELING.

More REMODELING articles about jobsite safety:

Safety: Better See to It — New program empowers workers to promote eye safety

Occupational Hazard: Good Reasons for Working Safely

Safety & Profitability — Reducing insurance claims reduces the cost of doing business