The videos on The Oregonian’s website are arresting: a table saw stopping abruptly as it comes into contact with a hot dog (standing in for a human finger as part of a demonstration), leaving the hot dog barely nicked. The technology, called “Saw Stop”, was developed by a Portland lawyer (with a PhD in Physics) whose Tualatin-based company now manufactures its own table saws after failing to sell industry leaders on the technology. It represents a dramatic leap forward in safety: something that could decrease the number of Oregon amputations significantly were it to come into wider use.
The lawyer/inventor/physicist, Stephen Glass, designed a technology that allows the saw to distinguish flesh from things it ought to be cutting (such as wood or metal). When the blade senses it is in contact with flesh it stops and retracts, Glass claims, 10 times faster than an airbag deploys in an Oregon auto crash. Glass and his partners set up their own company to sell saws using their technology after the country’s leading tool manufacturers refused to license it, deciding, Glass said, that “safety doesn’t sell.” This, he says, despite an estimated 60,000 table saw injuries each year in the United States, about 3000 of which lead to amputations.
What may change this equation is a recent Massachusetts jury decision against Roybi, a large table saw manufacturer, awarding $1.5 million to a man who mangled his hand while working with one of the company’s table saws. The Oregonian reports that 60 similar cases have already been filed nationwide. Since Glass believes the tool companies were uninterested in his technology because they had not previously been held liable for the injuries their products can cause, the evolving legal landscape may lead to a change in the business environment.
Until then, however, victims of Oregon power tool accidents should consult immediately with a Portland personal injury attorney after suffering an injury while using a table saw or other power tool. In his interview with the Oregonian Glass recounts arguments against the adoption of his technology that are eerily similar to ones the auto industry made in the 1960s against making seat belts standard in cars (arguments it repeated in the 1980s in reference to air bags). Whether this technology will someday be as universal as seat belts are today, remains to be seen.