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SawStop inventor Steve Gass defends the latest tablesaw verdictscomments (109) October 6th, 2011 in blogs
After reading the Consumer Product Safety Commission's new ANPR (advance notice of proposed rulemaking), and finding many errors and assumptions, I had a lot of questions for Steve Gass, the SawStop inventor whose testimony and data both the CPSC and the court in the Osorio case relied on heavily. As usual, Gass was very forthcoming and candid, and quick, which any reporter appreciates.
COMPLETE OSORIO COVERAGE
Here are the highlights of our e-mail exchanges, which I found to be very enlightening, but left me of course, with followup questions (here's one: I find that a riving knife lets me concentrate on just one thing, keeping my fingers out of harm's way. And I'm sure that is making me less likely to run my hand into the blade). I'll follow with those questions later, plus Q&As with representatives from the rest of the tablesaw industry.
This issue will dominate woodworking headlines for some time. Bear in mind that I sent many of my questions all at once, getting Gass's answers all at once later, so I didn't always have a chance to consider a previous answer before formulating my next question. Also, I moved Qs and As around a bit to make this exchange more readable and kill some redundancy.
By the way, the PTI is the Power Tool Institute, an association formed by most of the other tablesaw manufacturers, in response to the entry of SawStop into the marketplace.
Christiana (that's me): How does an ANPR work?
Gass: It is the first step in the process of the CPSC creating a rule. It basically says they are considering making a rule and asks for public input on various questions that bear on whether a rule is warranted or not. When the ANPR is published, interested parties are given 60 days to comment and provide input on the questions such as you raise below.
Christiana: Can you tell me more about your role in helping the CPSC do its research and come to the conclusion that a standard is needed?
Gass: CPSC certainly shouldn’t just take my word for things – nor have they. They’ve considered the PTI’s comments and submissions and the engineers at the CPSC have made their own evaluations. Furthermore, I’m not suggesting anybody just take my word for it. I have documented and backed up any statements I make. Will the PTI do the same?
I haven’t had any role in helping to prepare the ANPR or helping the CPSC do its research. The only thing I have provided to them is copies of our finger save data from which they can evaluate the effectiveness of the SawStop technology in mitigating injury. The vast majority of what is in the briefing package comes from internal data at the CPSC – especially NEISS, their injury tracking data base. I know they have purchased one of our contractor saws and done their own tests on it, but I didn’t participate in that in any way and don’t know what tests they did or what results they generated.
If you’re wondering why the CPSC is so interested, their own numbers tell it all: $2.36B in injury costs on a product having a retail market value of $300-400M. The piece SawStop brought to the table was that there was a solution that could in fact prevent these injuries. The CPSC contacted me when they heard about SawStop, not the other way around.
The CPSC started this process before I’d even invented SawStop. In fact they originally approached the industry in 1998 about trying to do something to make table saws safer. The industry’s response was that current guards were the best option and customer education were the only possible solution. See attached documents. It was only after I came up with SawStop that the industry suddenly developed an interest in riving knives – not because they didn’t know about them before, but because they wanted to have some improvement to offer the CPSC to fend off more stringent regulations.
I know it is kind of fashionable to suspect everyone is only in it for themselves. And, I guess many people will want to cynically believe that I’m somehow manipulating the system only to make a bunch of money. Well, the truth is I’m lucky that I don’t have to choose between doing what I believe to be the right thing and doing what’s in my financial interest. Like any other inventor, I hope to make money from my invention. I also hope to make all table saws safer. Fortunately, I don’t think those two goals are at odds.
Christiana: I'm disappointed in the Osorio verdict, and in the CPSC's briefing package. I still haven't seen anyone prove you can put the SawStop technology into a portable jobsite saw without doubling its weight and price, more or less. The jury is also out on how the electronics would stand up to the elements and other abuse in the back of pickup trucks and on jobsites.
Gass: You are welcome to come out any time and see our prototype [that incorporates the SawStop technology into a jobsite saw]. It weighs about the same as a Bosch 4100, so weight is certainly not an issue. I believe the manufacturing cost will be less than $100 over that of the Bosch, as there just isn’t much that you have to add to put SawStop on it. Even the PTI guys have testified that it would only cost $55 to add their version to a portable bench top saw.
Do you really believe that we or B&D or Bosch can’t design the electronics sufficiently to withstand the environment? Many power tools already incorporate electronics of comparable complexity and they seem to hold up okay. Every drill has electronics in it. Or, how about the fence position digital display on the Bosch jobsite table saw? That has a microcontroller, just like what we incorporate. The suggestion that flesh detection technology is somehow unique in this regard is simply nonsense. Back when we started, the PTI was saying you couldn’t seal the cartridge against dust either and low and behold, that turned out to not be a problem either.
As for the Osorio jury, I think we could argue about whether the law is wrong if you don’t believe that manufacturers should have an obligation to make there products reasonably safe - reasonable generally being defined as being where the cost of making them any safer exceeds the economic saving from reduced injury. But, that is in essence the law. I sat through all of the testimony in the Osorio case and I can tell you the jury made the right decision given the evidence before them and the law that they were instructed to follow. Ryobi said they couldn’t have incorporated safer technology and I testified that they could have based on my experience designing and building just such saws. But the jury didn’t just believe me, they also believed Peter Domeny from Bosch when he testified that the PTI had developed a system they could put on bench top saws for $55. Either system would have prevented Osorio’s injury from being devastating. So there were two relatively low cost possible solutions that could have prevented the injury and Ryobi used neither. How could the jury have reached any other conclusion but that the BTS15 was not reasonably safe?
posted in: blogs, Tablesaw, safety, sawstop, osorio, gass
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