Table saw accidents are painful, life-changing and expensive. Each year, more than 67,000 U.S. workers and do-it-yourselfers suffer blade contact injuries, according to government estimates, including more than 33,000 injuries treated in emergency rooms and 4,000 amputations.
For a more extensive investigation of power saw safety and the industry’s role, see Power Tool Industry Circles the Wagons as Disabling Saw Injuries Mount.
by Lilly Fowler, Fairwarning
Tom Corbett was helping remodel the front entryway of a home in Manchester, Mass., two years ago when suddenly his life changed forever.
A piece of wood he was trying to cut jammed in his table saw, and his hand was thrown into the blade. He still struggles to remember all of the horrible details, but he’s haunted by the fact that four of his fingers were severed. “I just know within a second my fingers were on the ground,” he said.
That’s how Corbett became one of the thousands of Americans suffering amputations or other serious injuries in table saw accidents every year.
As often is the case, Corbett, 43, wasn’t a novice when it comes to working with wood. He has done carpentry since the age of 14 and says he has used almost every type of table saw on the market.
The accident cost him his pinky and ring finger. Even though doctors were able to reattach two other fingers, he will never have full use of them and he still suffers severe pain.
Corbett, who is suing the table saw manufacturer, already has gone through a half-dozen surgeries and more operations are possible.
He says every time he has surgery, he needs physical therapy three or four times a week to try to break up the scar tissue that builds up. And although the operations straighten Corbett’s fingers, they have always curled back after a short time. The last surgery involved freeing up tendons and joints with the hope that he will gain more movement in his hand.
“I’m starting to get a little leery whether or not they’re ever going to be able to do anything for me,” Corbett said.
At the time of the accident Corbett was covered by workers compensation insurance through his employer, JW Custom Carpentry, based in Byfield, Mass. That pays for Corbett’s medical bills, which he estimates could be as high as $500,000. Corbett, who is separated and helps support his three children, said workers compensation also provides 60 percent of his previous regular wage, but that isn’t enough for him and his family to get by.
Doctors tell him that he’s unlikely ever to work as a carpenter again, the job he has done all of his adult life. That means, Corbett said, he will have to turn to “something that I probably don’t like as much. I don’t know what that could be. I was never really anybody to work in an office, my work was always hands on. So I’m really not sure what I’m going to do.”
Corbett is suing Black & Decker, which made the DeWalt table saw he was using when he got hurt. He blames the company for not installing the available technology that could have prevented the accident by shutting down the blade immediately upon skin contact.
Black & Decker denies responsibility for the accident.
Corbett acknowledges that he wasn’t using the tool’s safety guard. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, most saw operators at least part of the time work without the guard, which fits like a hood over the blade, because it limits visibility and must be removed for some cuts.
But Corbett hopes his lawsuit will spur the table saw industry to change and adopt more effective technology that would stop the blade on contact with skin.
“I think anything they can do to save anybody from going through this, I think they should do it,” Corbett said.
“I would never have thought anybody like myself could ever have this type of injury at all. I consider myself so experienced and safety conscious. So I’d say if it can happen to me it can happen to anybody.”
“My life changed in less than a second it seemed like, from being able to do anything I wanted to not being able to do anything,” he added. “I just feel like a rock. I just sit here, and I feel like I’m kind of useless.”
Listen to Tom Corbett describe his accident and how it has affected his life.