Nail guns are favored for their efficiency and convenience, but they're also sending users to the emergency room. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 37,000 people each year are treated for nail-gun injuries, with foot and hand punctures being the most common. A study of residential carpenters in St. Louis found that two of every five sustain a nail-gun injury during their four years of training.
While construction workers account for just over half of these injuries, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Advisory Committee for Construction Safety and Health (ACCSH) believes building-trade guidance in the use of nail guns is overdue.
Matt Gillen, deputy director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), says that while nail-gun injuries are well covered in research journals, little of that data has reached the people who use the tools.
A lack of standards further complicates the issue. "With no standard other than the one on air-compressor tools in general, there's a real information gap regarding the safe use of nail guns," Gillen says.
CDC and NIOSH are bridging that gap with "Nail Gun Safety: A Guide for Construction Contractors." Developed over the past year with the input of researchers, tool manufacturers and safety and health professionals, the document provides contractors with details on the causes of nail injuries and offers advice for prevention.
Experts recommend the use of sequential triggers instead of contact triggers. A sequential trigger fires a nail only when its controls—usually a safety tip and trigger—are activated in a certain order. Because a contact trigger fires in any order, it is susceptible to "bump-firing" and double firing, especially when users are trying to place the nail gun accurately against the workpiece. This dangerous practice has been found to double the risk of injury compared with full-sequential type triggers.
"The full-sequential trigger is the safest one to use in most situations, especially for framing and other tasks where pieces need to be held together by hand," Gillen says.
ACCSH says it will monitor reaction to the guide and work with partners to determine if follow-up and other steps are needed. "But if we can help reduce nail-gun injuries, the document will be doing its job," Gillen adds.