Externalizing Costs- The Table Saw Edition

Steve Gass, a physicist and lawyer by training, gave an interview about SawStop, which is a table saw that’s designed to detect and immediately stop and retract the blade if it detects human flesh. He discussed how and why he created it, but also addressed the pressing social need it serves: there are around 150 injuries a day with table saws, and about 8 of them are amputations.

Given that he’s designed a technology to massively cut down on these injuries,1 you may wonder why it hasn’t been widely adopted. The reason, unsurprisingly, is that other table saw manufacturers just externalize the harmful social costs of their products. As Gass notes in his interview with MachinePix Weekly:

The fundamental question came down to economics. Almost a societal economic structure question. The CPSC says table saws result in about $4B in damage annually. The market for table saws is about $200-400M. This is a product that does almost 10x in damage as the market size. There’s a disconnect—these costs are borne by individuals, the medical system, workers comp—and not paid by the power tools company. Because of that, there’s not that much incentive to improve the safety of these tools.

As depressingly normal, even if companies did want to integrate Gass’ technologies it’d add somewhat to their current bill of materials and, as such, run the risk of making their products less competitive in the market when juxtaposed against other companies’ table saws. With the result being a massive cost to the economy that is borne by taxpayers and insurance companies.

  1. Pardon the pun. ↩︎