Design out, Guard, then Warn

Check out this fascinating solution to protecting users from the blade of a table saw.

The way it works is that the saw blade registers electrical contact with human skin and immediately stops. I can’t imagine not having this safety system in place, now that it is available. However, I still have some questions that commenters might want to weigh in on:

1. Unless the system is more redundant than an airplane, it must be able to fail. How do you keep users to remain vigilant when 99.999% of the time there is no penalty for carelessness?

2. To answer my own question, is the fear of a spinning blade strong enough to do that on its own? I know I’m not going to intentionally test the SawStop.

3. Can we use natural fears such as this in other areas of automation?

4. For great insight into human decision making, read this thread on a woodworking site. What would it take to change the mind of this first post-er?

When do we as adult woodworkers take responsibility and understand the dangers of woodworking. Most accidents happen due to not paying attention to what we’re doing. If we stay focused while we’re using power tools, or even hand tools, we eliminate accidents.”

5 thoughts on “Design out, Guard, then Warn”

  1. I agree with Richard here. Beyond the complacency, though, is the problem of the technology not being used on all devices of that type. If a child, for instance, learned that they could touch a stove surface and not get burned, because of a technology used, they would likely end up eventually finding a stove without that technology and injuring themselves.

  2. Mark Twain once said that we should be careful to get from an experience only what was in it. A cat may sit on a hot stove once and learn. However, it is likely to never again sit on a cold stove either.

  3. Commenters complaining that enhancing safety will teach people to ignore danger are missing the point. The makers of SawStop have designed a safety feature that replaces an all-too-common tragedy with a minor injury, a loud bang, and a ruined saw. What’s not to love? That the SawStop system is not yet widespread is no reason to impugn it, nor is it sensible to complain that such a system may teach people to be complacent about other dangers. As Human Factors professionals it is our job to help people be more successful in their daily lives, which includes helping them be safer. Just because we cannot immediately banish all significant hazards does not mean we should abandon work on mitigating one.

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