Table Saws and Safety

Shop owners discuss table saw dangers, practicality issues with blade guards, and other safety equipment options. July 2, 2008

In a manufacturing shop, the OSHA General Safety Orders mandate guards and anti-kickback devices be installed on table saws. With drop down guards, there is a visibility issue as well as control when cutting small materials. Also, when cutting a thin piece off, the cut part can wedge between the splitter and the kickback device, causing a problem of its own. I would be interested in comments regarding other shops that have experienced the same issues and how they solved the problem. Also, is there anyone out there in the CA or OR area who does safety instruction on the operation of table saws?

Forum Responses
(Dust Collection and Safety Equipment Forum)
From contributor J:
I don't know if this helps, but the shop I used to work for installed the Delta (?) style guards on all their table saws. You can either flip them up temporarily or remove them with one screw, then make your cut. When you're done just drop back in place.

From contributor K:
We remove the guards for safety! In 25 years of operating table saws I have found that the standard guard that comes on a Unisaw is without a doubt a safety hazard. We run two Unisaws on a daily basis and the guards can be found on the floor next to the saw. We are considering replacing the Unisaws with the Sawstop machines. I think that this will be a safety upgrade for us, and at about $4,000.00 each, they are much cheaper than an accident.

From contributor C:
I have a shop in Oregon. We had OSHA (their consulting arm) out for a safety review at our request. The way this works is that they will spot any problems, give a reasonable timeline for you to remedy the problems, during which period those problems are not subject to enforcement action.

The OSHA guys did not object to our having no guard on our 10" tablesaw, partly because we use a feeder for almost all cuts. Because we do make some cuts without the feeder, safe practices are critical, of course; still, we recently upgraded to a SawStop saw. Panel saws, cutoff saws, band saws really never need to be used without guards.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for your responses. We have had OSHA consulting at our facility and work within their structure. Still, the guards do pose a threat of injury to some procedures. I guess the same could be said about motorcycle helmets and safety belts in some instances, but overall, the chance of a severe injury is less using safety equipment. The advice on the Sawstop saws is well taken and I will look into this. I also found out that there is no one who will take on the liability of instruction on the safe use of table saws.

From contributor M:
If you can afford to do it, I would advise getting a SawStop. I recently sold SawStops to two small shops after they had accidents. Both were amputees, and both would have been prevented if they would have had a SawStop. One of my shops told me the ambulance ride alone cost more than the SawStop. He was able to have his 3 middle fingers re-attached and there is a possibility he might regain partial use of them again, but his guitar playing days are over. So far, in the first few months since his accident, his medical bills have exceeded $100,000.00 with more to come.

Both are going through OSHA reviews at this time and could be facing heavy fines. Several customers informed SawStop that OSHA had referred them to SawStop to correct their problems.

My shops complain to me that there are many applications that are virtually impossible to perform with the guards on. They have also told me that their OSHA inspectors realize this, but if an accident happens, it's your neck.

Most shop owners know you need to get the right tool for the job. So, if you need to remove the guards, why not get the right tool, and the only safe tool, for that application - a SawStop.

A nick and a Band-Aid cost a lot less than an amputation and a surgeon - physically, emotionally, and economically. It's a great saw and the writing is on the wall. SawStop is trying to see if rebates, credits, or discounts could be issued on Workman's Comp Insurance for shops that use the SawStop. Safety is no accident.

Sorry for the gloom and doom, but it hurts me when my friends get hurt. So far in my territory alone there have been four amputees this year.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the timely message. So far, we have not had a serious accident. What I am doing is looking at ways to reduce our liabilities in this area. We will take a look at the Sawstop as an alternative to the standard table saw.

From contributor N:
At the wood shop I am the safety manager at, we use the Brettguard system. It is a fixed clear guard covering the entire blade that you crank up and down, so you can get it to about 1/16 above the material being cut. It will not raise up if you run your hand into it like some of the other guards. It also helps hold the material down - works great with laminate. We had a Sawstop as well, but sold it. It was an amazing product. However, OSHA does not see the Sawstop as a guard, so you will still be fined for not having a guard in place, since an injury has to take place for the system to work.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for your information. The odd thing is that OSHA still requires a guard for the Sawstop units. It would seem that a guard would be pretty useless in this operation.

From contributor N:
It comes down to the fact that in order for the Sawstop to activate, you have to touch the blade, thus causing an injury. Even though the system reduces the amount of damage done, OSHA is in the business of preventing accidents, not making them less severe.

From contributor M:
If I left the impression that OSHA would approve using the SawStop without a guard, I apologize. The point I was trying to make was that for those applications that require the removal of the guard, the SawStop will be the safest table saw for that application.

SawStop informed me that the worst injury caused by a SawStop was when someone lost their balance and in order to keep from falling on the spinning blade had to push off the blade with their hand. This action with normal table saws will produce an amputation, minimum. The resulting injury, because the saw was a SawStop, required 5 stitches.

The owner of one of my shops told me that OSHA suddenly became more forgiving towards him when he informed them that he was so upset with the injury, he purchased a SawStop as his way of making his shop safer in order to prevent future amputations. He believes that his fines were less because of that.

They are currently perfecting a contractor's version that should be ready before the end of 2007. Insurance companies in California are starting to offer discounts. Check with SawStop for updated information.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. Makes perfect sense to replace conventional saws with this technology.

From contributor N:

I also agree that the technology in the saw is amazing. We bought ours 3 years ago when they just came on the market. Besides being safe, it's the best performing saw we have ever had. For a 5hp with 72" fence, it weighs just over 800lbs! That's a stout machine. It was also super smooth and almost totally silent when running. It was better than our Powermatics, and I consider them the next nicest saw to the Sawstop.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor D:
The SawStop performs exceptionally well as a table saw the best saw I've ever used. But the best thing is how well the other safety features work. The blade guard does not require tools to remove/install and it can be done in a matter of a couple seconds. The riving knife should be standard on all machines because it dramatically reduces the chance of kickback. And the huge on/off switch is super easy to operate if you find yourself in a band when cutting a large panel. These are great machines. I'm very impressed with the safety and quality.