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When will we learn?

…Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez echoed the condolences, adding that Americans understood the difficulties of mine rescues – and the grief of victims’ families.

“Tragedies like this remind us once again of the need to ensure that all workers return home safely at the end of their shifts,” he said in a statement. “No one, anywhere in the world, should have to risk his or her life to earn a living.”

For the past few days I’ve been reading reports of a horrific mining disaster which occurred in the country of Turkey near the town of Soma. For those of you that may be unaware of the situation, just two days ago an explosion in a coal mine and an ensuing fire trapped hundreds of miners underground. There have been hundreds of fatalities, and many more are expected. I will be the first to admit that I know little about the history and culture of Turkey, but that doesn’t mean that I cannot sympathize with those workers and their families.

Mining accidents are not unheard of in my part of the country, though thankfully they have become an extremely rare occurrence. There was a time when they were much more commonplace, and they usually resulted from lack of safety equipment, and more importantly, the complete disregard of safety regulations. More often than not, the technology and safety equipment already existed to do much in preventing mining accidents, or at the least to help better protect the miners in the event of an unpreventable disaster. Yet, that wasn’t usually the case as the safety measures were never implemented because mine owners circumvented or just plain ignored the safety rules, and worse, they rarely provided their workers with proper safety equipment to begin with, not because it didn’t exist, but because it they felt that it cost too much. But perhaps the most despicable aspects of these disasters were not only the result of carelessness on the part of the mining companies, but the carelessness of the Federal Government.

“Regulation” is often considered a bad word. Some people in the woodworking community hear the word and they automatically think that the Government is out to get them. Corporations fight tooth and nail to this day to have regulations lessened or even removed completely. The destruction of these regulations is always proposed in the name of profit, and job growth. The funny thing is that much of the time the first regulations these corporations want to remove are safety regulations. It seems that safety is expensive.

Anybody that has ever been in the military, or worked as a tradesman, or in a mill or factory among other places, has probably encountered a situation where the working conditions in terms of safety were lax. They may have even been threatened with losing their jobs when pointing out the indiscretions. There are even times when companies have threatened to close rather than comply with proposed regulations, or even regulations that have already been legislated and are considered law. There are people out there that applaud certain corporations for it, for sticking it to the Government. But in the end, it’s always the people working the jobs that pay the cost.

When the “Sawstop Legislation” was first proposed I was all for it, and I still am. The fact that it didn’t pass doesn’t bother me in the least, though maybe it should. What did bother me about it was what was said on the forums, and what really bothered me was what was written in the editorial sections of several major woodworking magazines. You know why? Because it’s my personal opinion that every one of those “editorials” were written not for the benefit of woodworkers, but to protect the advertising profitability of the magazines. In other words, safety, or the proposal of it, was once again compromised in the name of profit.

Before I go on, I will admit that I didn’t like how Sawstop corporation handled the situation. Some would say that they were trying to force their technology on other manufacturers, and to a big extent they would be correct. Yet, recent history has basically proven that safety features that cost any money nearly always have to be regulated or they will never make it into the market-Seat Belts, Air Bags, Safety Harnesses for high work, GFCI and Arc Fault Protection to name just a few examples. If you happen to believe that the free market will force safer products onto the mass market you are sadly mistaken. Free market correction has been nearly non-existent for more than a generation, de-regulation has seen to that. Mass market products, including tools, will continue to be made more and more cheaply until they are forced to change by law, because if the free market actually worked the way everybody seems to think it does, we would already have noticed a real improvement.

All of my opinions could be way off base, I admit that, but here is something I do know; every person that uses a Sawstop saw, whether at home or as a professional, has a far less chance of being severely injured by the piece of equipment they are using. And if the “Sawstop Legislation” had passed, as of January 1st, 2015, all new table saws sold in California, and possibly across the nation, would have had flesh detection technology as mandatory installed safety equipment, and every woodworker, carpenter, furniture maker, and factory worker that used a newly installed table saw from then on would have a hell of a better chance of going to bed every night after work with their digits and hands intact. Across the country, table saws would be safer, home wood workers would be safer, jobsites would be safer, and going to work would be safer for thousands of people. That’s enough for me.

So yet again, we have another instance where safety regulations were apparently compromised and hundreds of people paid for it with their lives. If Sawstop legislation was as evil as quite a few people made it out to be, I would ask the same people to talk to the parents, wives, and children of those miners that will never come home again, and tell them that safety costs a little too much and that it really isn’t the business of the Government to regulate it. I would have them explain to those families that although things could be made safer, it would cut into profits. I would love to see them present some facts and figures to those families, and show them the dollar value saved comparatively to the life it cost. Because the woodworking magazine editors sure as hell liked to use a lot of facts and figures explaining how much the Sawstop safety technology cost, and how losing a finger really wouldn’t affect your life all that much, and that it would just cost too much to produce a much safer saw. Most of those figures were completely unfounded, so while they were at it I would ask them to also put a price on what they think a finger, or a hand, or even a human life was worth. Why not? It’s all conjecture isn’t it?

Before I go, rest assured I am not comparing this horrible tragedy unfolding in Turkey to Sawstop Legislation, but I am saying that the same line of thinking is present. I know it’s been nearly two years since Sawstop legislation has been a hot topic in the world of woodworking, but that doesn’t make what some woodworking magazines printed in their pages regarding the legislation any less disgusting. Here’s what they said: Safety costs too much. Here’s why: They didn’t want to piss off their advertisers. That’s it. They told woodworkers that they really didn’t need a safer table saw, even though there are still thousands of table saw injuries every year. Why? Because they didn’t want to piss off their advertisers. They even made claims that a table saw with flesh detecting safety technology will make woodworkers careless. Why? Because they didn’t want to piss off their advertisers. Maybe that’s smart thinking, or just plain old good business, but I’m not willing to put a dollar value on my hand, or arm, or life. Yet, a lot of woodworking magazines were willing to do just that.

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