Circular saws and table/bench saws have been around for more than 200 years and predate the discovery of electricity. Early versions of these saws were powered by wind or foot-powered treadles, and many early sawmills were built on the banks of rivers to harness the power of moving water. They all had one thing in common that holds true of today’s table saws: a flat horizontal surface on which to push wood toward a spinning circular blade. Several modern-day advances have occurred in the overall design of the table saw, but the concept of an individual using his or her hands to push material (most often wood) toward a rapidly spinning blade with nothing more than a plastic covering over the top of the blade has not changed.
A spinning blade in close proximity to one’s extremities is a recipe for potential disaster and, unfortunately, the standard plastic blade guard has been ineffective in reducing table saw-related injury. Approximately 40,000 individuals in the U.S. seek emergency department treatment each year for table saw-related injuries. Of these patients 4,000, or an average of more than 10 every day of the week, require amputations.
Table saw injuries have a resultant cost of approximately $2 billion per year. However, improved safety devices and a few reengineered saws have been invented recently that have the ability to stop a saw blade spinning at 4,600 revolutions per minute (rpm) to zero rpm in as little as five milliseconds, which is seven times faster than an automobile airbag deploys. Unfortunately, there is a price associated with this safety. It would cost an estimated $100 per saw to place automatic safety technology on every such tool in the U.S. However, the savings in injury prevention per saw would be $753, not to mention the reduced number of amputations and emotional trauma associated with these devastating injuries.*
To examine the occurrence of table saw injuries in the National Trauma Data Bank® (NTDB®) research dataset for 2012, admissions medical records were searched using the International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification (ICD-9-CM). Specifically searched was external cause of injury code (E-code) 919.4 (injury caused by woodworking and forming machines [band saw, bench saw, circular saw, molding machine, overhead plane, powered saw, radial saw, and sander]). A total of 2,042 records were found; 1,742 records contained a hospital discharge status, including 1,713 patients discharged to home, 17 to acute care/rehab, and eight to skilled nursing facilities. Four died. Patients were 95.5 percent male, on average 48.8 years of age, had an average hospital length of stay of 2.5 days, an intensive care unit length of stay of 4.2 days, an average injury severity score of 4, and were on the ventilator for an average of 6.3 days. More than half of the incidents took place in the home, with another 20 percent occurring in industrial environments (see figure). Of the 253 patients tested for alcohol, 16 percent were found to be positive.
The opposing thumb is an evolutionary marvel, distinguishing humans from all other non-primates. It allows us to perform highly dexterous tasks with our hands. Unfortunately, technology has not been able to replace amputated fingers, hands, or arms with the same success as some of the newer lower-extremity prostheses. So, $100 for a safety device is a small price to pay to prevent injury and keep your hands and fingers off the table.
Throughout the year, we will be highlighting data through brief reports in the Bulletin. The NTDB Annual Report 2012 is available on the ACS website as a PDF file and as a PowerPoint presentation at www.ntdb.org. In addition, information regarding how to obtain NTDB data for more detailed study is available on the website. If you are interested in submitting your trauma center’s data, contact Melanie L. Neal, Manager, NTDB, at email@example.com.
Statistical support for this article has been provided by Chrystal Caden-Price, data analyst, NTDB.
*National Consumers League. NCL fact sheet on saw safety. Available at: http://www.nclnet.org/health/99-safety/567-facts-at-a-glance-the-inherent-danger-of-table-saws. Accessed February 19, 2013.
The NTDB Annual Report 2012 is available on the ACS website as a PDF file and as a PowerPoint presentation at www.ntdb.org.
In addition, information regarding how to obtain NTDB data for more detailed study is available on the website.