No one uses a hammer anymore. No one, at least, who builds things for a living. Contractors across the country, especially residential carpenters, have universally adopted nail guns as their tool of choice. Which means nailers are here to stay, despite increased safety concerns and the occasional product recall.

With that being said, nail guns demand a far greater responsibility than hammers ever did. According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), “injuries resulting from use of nail guns hospitalize more construction workers than any other tool-related injury.”

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We’re all in danger when the proper safety techniques aren’t followed. Which that means that it’s not just your boss or manager’s duty to reduce nail gun risk. Every worker who uses a nail gun needs to be aware of the tool’s dangers and potential injuries, along with the best ways to prevent an accident.

Pneumatic Nail Gun Safety 101: A Guide For Contractors & Consumers

Let’s dive in and discover the industry’s best practices. These safety tips can dramatically reduce nail gun injuries, both those on the job and at home.

1. Always Use Sequential Trip Triggers

Nail guns come equipped with one of two different trigger mechanisms: sequential and contact trip. Both actually use two contacts,

  1. a manual trigger, like a standard firearm, and
  2. a safety activated by depressing the nail gun’s nose.

You have to push both for the nailer to drive a fastener. Using a contact trip trigger, you can push the contacts in any order and the nailer will still work. Sequential triggers limit the possibilities: you have to push the gun’s nose in, and then pull the manual trigger. This configuration eliminates “innovative” nailing techniques, like bump nailing. But it also eliminates the possibility of dangerous double fire and unintentional nail discharge.

Learn more about the difference between nail gun triggers here.

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How Much Safer Are Sequential Triggers?

The distinction between triggers is crucial; one study conducted by academics at Duke University’s Medical Center found that the use of sequential triggers could reduce nail gun injury rates by as much as 65%.

Many of our nation’s regulatory agencies, including OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH), regulate the working environment, ensuring safe workplaces for American employees. As one of the country’s most dangerous trades, construction definitely deserves OSHA’s strict scrutiny.

But despite numerous studies that have conclusively shown contact trip nail gun triggers to be dangerous, there are still no strict regulations barring their use. If you’re working with a contact trip trigger, ask your employer to make the switch. If they can’t, or won’t, make sure they’re doing everything in their power to promote a fully-informed worksite.

2. Learn Your Tool

While contractors might not have a legal responsibility to train their employees adequately, it’s certainly an ethical duty. In working with any dangerous tool, employees should know the equipment’s ins and outs, before getting real-world experience.

Make sure that you’ve adequately covered:

  • Nail gun trigger mechanisms and how they work
  • Nail gun types and their proper uses
  • How to properly load the nail gun
  • The proper use of air compressors
  • The right way to hold lumber when you’re driving fasteners
  • Materials more likely to produce a ricochet, like laminated veneer lumber (LVL)

And remember the following tips:

  • Use your stronger hand to hold a nail gun
  • Never keep you’re finger on the nailer’s trigger when it’s not in use
  • Warn coworkers of danger
  • Disconnect the compressor’s hose before clearing any nail jams
  • Be sure you know where studs or joists are when shooting into sheathing material
  • Always keep your free hand, the one not holding the gun, out of harm’s way (OSHA recommends at least 12 inches)
  • Use additional care when nailing in awkward positions, like toe nailing or on a ladder
  • Remember that most nailers recoil after being fired, and allow adequate space for any kickback
  • Check your work piece for knots or anything else that could cause a ricochet before nailing

You can find a thorough description of nail guns by type, use, and power source here.

3. Wear The Right Stuff

Some nail guns can shoot a fastener up to 100 miles per hour, a lot faster than a nail would need to penetrate your skull. OSHA requires all construction workers to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), and amateur home renovators should take note, too:

  • Eye protection, like goggles
  • Hard hat
  • Safety shoes, like steel-toed boots
  • Ear protection, like ear plugs or muffs

Click here to visit OSHA’s full guide on PPE.

4. Don’t Rush A Job

Contractors often resist the adoption of sequential triggers, arguing that contact trip makes for more productive worksites. Sequential just takes too long.

At least one study, published in the journal Public Health Reports, suggests that the difference in trigger efficiency is negligible. Researchers pitted two teams of experienced framers against one another. They both built identical structures; one using contact trip nail guns, and the other using sequential triggers. Using a contact trip only shaved off 1% of total building time, not much when you consider the sequential trigger’s dramatic safety benefits. In fact, the study’s authors concluded that it was more important who was using a nail gun, than what kind of trigger they were using.

Bottom line? Where safety is concerned, time shouldn’t matter. Taking a few extra minutes to check that your nail gun is functioning properly, and that your surroundings are clear, is the right thing to do.

5. Get Help If You Need It

If you are injured in a nail gun accident, seek immediate medical attention. Tragically, many nailer injuries go unreported. But even seemingly minor accidents can cause serious complications. Foreign materials, like glue or plastic, can transfer from a nail and get lodged in small cuts, causing long-term infections. In addition, many fasteners are “barbed,” and those tiny spikes can cause permanent structural damage when embedded nails aren’t removed by a professional.

For a look at other common nail gun injuries, visit this page.

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