The Cost of Electric Saw Hand Injuries
No matter how you slice it, hand injuries from electric saws are expensive and devastating. Table saws, electric band saws, and hand-held electric saws are involved in thousands of hand injuries every year. People of all ages from young to old are affected.

In this study from the Mayo Clinic, the cost of these injuries is calculated in terms of dollars and cents. Lost wages, physician charges, emergency room treatments, rehab, and hospitalization costs are some of the major costs incurred.

The study was done by reviewing the records of 134 patients who came to the Mayo Clinic, a regional medcial center in Rochester, Minnesota. Data was collected on type of patients treated (age, gender, occupation, educational level) as well as on the type of injury (number of fingers involved, type of treatment, complications). Chain saw accidents and injuries from hand-powered saws were not included.

Time lost from work and the economic value of that factor was calculated as well. The authors used the mean income from Minnesota to make calculations for their patients. But they also used some additional figures to calculate the nationwide cost of electric saw hand injuries.

They further divided the patients into three groups based on the severity of the injury and analyzed the data from that perspective. The three groups were 1) minor lacerations without damage to nerves, blood vessels or tendons; 2) finger amputation (at least one) but without repair of the blood vessels or tendons); and 3) patients who could have the finger reattached or who needed microsurgery to repair tiny blood vessels, nerves, or tendons.

Most people in group one who were employed were off work for an average of three weeks. Lost wages were around $2,700. Medical costs were an additional $2,900. These numbers all increased for the second group with a 60-day time span before being able to return-to-work and triple the lost wages. Medical costs were six times higher than for the first group.

The third group experienced a delay in return-to-work of 125 days (four months). Lost wages were around $14,000 with average medical costs just above the $40,000 mark. When added all together for the three groups, the total economic costs of electric saw hand injuries was slightly more than four million dollars.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission publishes a Hazard Screening Report from time to time. The most recent report was put out in 2003. Even at that time, the number of injuries from saws was increasing as more people use power tools in their at-home workshops. And with more and more high-powered technology, the injuries have gotten more severe. Most required the skills of a hand surgeon. Many of the more challenging injuries of the soft tissues with reimplantation or revascularization required the services of a microvascular hand surgeon.

The financial cost is just one aspect of electric saw hand injuries. Some of these patients were under the age of 18, which could mean limiting career or occupational choices. Self-employed skilled laborers unable to be as productive as before their injuries experienced long-term economic hardship. Others required vocational retraining or were disabled.

What can be done to prevent these kinds of injuries? The authors made several suggestions such as federal mandates requiring improvements in power tool technology. Perhaps some type of protective mechanism could be devised as part of the tool to make them more safe. In the meantime, education is imperative for employers, schools, and any individuals where spinning saw blades are in use. Training and supervision is advised for students, inexperienced users, and at-risk users.
Samuel C. Hoxie, MD, et al. The Economic Impact of Electric Saw Injuries to the Hand. In The Journal of Hand Surgery. May-June 2009. Vol. 34A. No. 5. Pp. 886-889.