A table saw that isn't correctly set up and outfitted with the necessary safety equipment can turn a piece of lumber into a forceful projectile. It's more than just a "good idea" to familiarize yourself with the causes of kickback, and what you can do to prevent it. Here's an excellent rundown on the basics that was posted by a senior member of the Women in Woodworking Forum:
"Kickback is caused by one thing only: the part gets bound up allowing the blade to throw it out like sand from under a car tire.
The very first thing is to have the saw tuned right. Blade parallel to the miter slot, and rip fence parallel to the blade. (Set them up in that order)
Look at your cuts and see where binding can occur. If the saw is properly set up, and the edge you are ripping from is straight, the board will not bind between the blade and rip fence, so no kickback there.
When bevel cutting, set the rip fence so that the blade is angled away from the fence. The board will tend to lift up and away from the blade. If the blade is tilted toward the fence, the board can easily get bound up between the fence and blade.
Never use the rip fence and the miter gauge at the same time when cutting through a piece. Again, the loose piece can turn and get stuck between the rip fence and blade.
The only binding that is hard to see or predict is a stressed board. The saw kerf can close behind the cut and pinch the back side of the blade. A proper splitter will keep the kerf open and prevent the kickback.
Lastly, I'll add that you need to listen to that little voice in your head. If you don't feel safe making a cut, YOU ARE PROBABLY RIGHT and should figure out a safer way."
(Read the rest of the kickback discussion for more detailed information)
A table saw is one of the most useful and most often used tools in the shop. Its worth taking a little time to learn how to use it correctly and to set it up so that it won't pose an undue threat to life and limb. A good table saw book, like Ian Kirby's, The Accurate Table Saw, is an excellent place to start. It will give you all of the information you need to make your table saw a safe tool to operate and you an informed, skillful and safety-conscious table saw operator.
After you read up on the subject, you'll undoubtedly want to make sure that all your table saw's components are adjusted correctly and that everything is functioning up to par. And since a dull or inappropriate blade is one of the most common sources of table saw safety and performance problems, you may decide to treat yourself to a new saw blade. Rockler's articles, "Saw Blades 101" and "Choosing the Right Saw Blade" will help you pick out a quality blade that's designed for use with a table saw, and for the type of cutting you need to do.
Making sure that your table saw blade is accurately aligned is equally important - for both safety and accurate, clean cutting. A table saw calibration tool like the Master Plate with Super Bar or A-Line It Table Saw Gauge will give you the most information about how your saw spins a blade, and will help you make the most accurate adjustments possible.
After you're set up with a decent blade, and everything is properly aligned, you may decide to begin a collection of accessories to further improve the safety and performance of your table saw. If your saw isn't currently equipped with one, a "splitter" (see the forum post above) will be your first order of business. After that's taken care of, adding a couple of shop-made or store-bought featherboards is the next logical step.
Taking a few simple measures to limit the potential for kickback will make your table saw much more safe to use, and will have the additional effect of making it a more accurate tool.