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Paul Jacquart
Paul Jacquart
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Nail Gun Dangers Persist

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Our office successfully handled a nail gun injury claim over a decade ago.  A carpenter working with a nail gun was positioned on scaffolding above our client.  He lowered his arm and the tip of the nail gun came into contact with our client’s helmet, triggering the firing mechanism and causing a nail to shoot through the helmet and into our client’s skull. 

Apparently little has been done to decrease the incidence of nail gun injuries. A news story from the Sacramento Bee suggests that nail gun injuries are on the rise.  According to the article, the nail guns:

are dangerous, especially in the automatic mode known as “contact trip.” Driven by compressed air, the brawniest nail guns can blast 30 nails a minute that travel up to 490 feet per second, qualifying the nails as low-velocity missiles. In contact trip mode, with one pull of the trigger, they fire those missiles whenever the muzzle makes contact with a surface – including heads, hands, eyes and even chests.

The article states that neither federal nor state agencies have done much to bring attention to the dangers, despite the fact that more than 100 nail gun injury victims show up each day at hospital emergency departments across the United States.

According to the article, manufacturers were aware of the dangers, but continued to sell contact trip guns because of their popularity with consumers.  In 2003, manufacturers began making semiautomatic guns using a “sequential design” that requires the user to pull the trigger for each nail, a much safer alternative.  Designs of these sequential trigger guns were available since the 1990’s but manufacturers largely ignored the option, says the article.  Some have advocated a ban on contact trip guns in light of the safer alternative, but they are still being used regularly nationwide. 

If you are working with or around nail guns, it is important to read all manuals and to follow all rules for workplace safety. Mike Strawbridge offers these nail gun safety tips:

1. Understand the difference between sequential trip trigger and contact trip triggers. Be sure you are using the right one for the right work. The Bostich catalog has a good description of how each trigger works and when they should be used.

2. When trying to accurately place a fastener with a contact trip nail gun, be as sure of your target and the backdrop as you would if you were firing a pistol. There is always the possibility of a double shot that will not be contained by the wood. Keep body parts out of the possible line of fire.

3. When using a pneumatic nail gun, be alert to the added hazard of the air hose. Compressed air has its own hazards, but having an air hose stretched through a construction site adds to the already hazardous environment. Watching roofers with pneumatic nail guns always reminds me of the story about Mark Twain in the city: He said one day he saw a fellow on a ledge threatening to jump. A large crowd had gathered below but Mark Twain said he was the only one in the group with the presence of mind to throw him a rope and pull him down. The air hose always looks like someone has already thrown the roofers a rope.

4. When holding a work piece to be nailed, be aware that the force of the nail gun will drive through any obstacle in the wood like knots or other fasteners. The path through the wood is not always certain however. Nails have been know to come out the side of wood and in some cases even made a U turn and come back at the gun. Keep you hand at least the length of the fastener you are shooting away from the muzzle at all times when joining wood.

5. Don’t use rusty fasteners. Using old nails in a nail gun can not only damage the gun, but they can send rust and scale out toward the operator. Be sure to use new clean nails for safe operation.

6. Wear your safety glasses or face shield. Not only can the nail gun send errant nails your way, but the force of the nailing operating can splinter the substrate as well. And if you ignored number six above, rust and scale can be ejected as well. So protect your eyes. It is a lot easier to use a nail gun safely when you can wee what you are working with.

7. Maintain the nail gun properly. Regular maintenance and lubrication will reduce the possibility of jams and misfires that require potentially dangerous repairs and unjamming procedures.

8. Read and follow all the manufactures safety rules and procedures. They have likely already been sued over something there.