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Nail guns are easy to use, but not necessarily easy to use safely.

Today’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report issued by the Center for Disease Control reveals that over the five year period between 2001 – 2005, emergency departments saw 37,000 patients annually for nail gun injuries. This represents a remarkable surge in the occurrence of nail gun injuries, particularly in the consumer market, for which these tools have become more accessible, with the proliferation of home improvement stores and the inclination of consumers to do more home improvements themselves.

Usually, the problem is with poorly trained users, who fail to appreciate that nail guns are guns, and need to be handled with the same caution. However, the problem is often one of insufficient warnings and instructions accompanying the nail guns.

Unsafe nail gun design has also been a problem that has led to litigation. Effective May, 2003, the International Staple, Nail, and Tool Association adopted a voluntary ANSI standard recommending that manufacturers install safer “sequential-trip triggers” on certain nail guns before distribution. This system makes unintentional nail gun discharge less likely because the nose contact must be depressed before the manual trigger, rather than simultaneously with the trigger, to discharge a nail. This may help reduce accidents, but the contact-trip triggers can still be sold as an option. In the end, there is no substitute for nail gun safety education.

We handled a nail gun case in our office, where a carpenter standing on a scaffold accidentally discharged a nail gun, shooting a 3 1/2 inch nail into the skull and brain of a worker standing below him. Miraculously, he survived. A Milwaukee jury later found that the carpenter’s fault was 80% responsible, and our client 20% at fault for the incident.

These tools are dangerous. Use them with caution and common sense, and only after reading the manuals and warnings.

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