Nail guns are an efficient way to get the job done, far better than hammers when it comes to completing projects under the deadline. All the same, nailers can be dangerous weapons. Driving fasteners upwards of 150 feet per second, it only takes one misstep, or a slight malfunction, to separate a job well done from permanent disability.
Human error plays a large part in many nail gun accidents, and this guide will help you identify the most common practices that result in nailer injuries. But when you dig into the numbers, and view a wider range of nail gun accidents, it becomes clear that many injuries could have been easily prevented.
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What gets in the way of safety? In a word: negligence – when nail gun manufacturers and other workers don’t hold up their end of the bargain.
What Causes Nail Gun Accidents?
Every year, almost 37,000 people are sent to emergency rooms with nail gun injuries; 68% of them are construction professionals. Here’s how they happen, and what we can all do to reduce the risk:
Most nail gun accidents are caused by one, common factor: unintentional discharge. It’s a serious problem on work sites across the country, and a considerable source of risk.
Looking specifically at accidents among construction workers, a team of researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), found that unwanted gun discharge was cited in 68.6% of all nail gun accidents. Many academics have taken these results to mean one, very clear, thing: nail guns still aren’t safe enough.
For their part, researchers have been proposing serious solutions for years, including banning more dangerous contact trip triggers outright. So far, federal regulations that would protect carpenters and consumers have seen little support in Congress. Pressure from industry lobbyists, and many contractors, has impeded the efforts of worker safety advocates. In the short-term, it’s up to workers and consumers alone to learn their tools and practice proper nail gun safety.
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But no unintentional discharge, or “misfire,” is the same. In fact, there are several different reasons that a nailer might fire when you’re not expecting it to.
1. Unintentional “Bump”
Most contemporary nail guns have two separate triggers, and you have to push both for the gun to fire. Sequential triggers force you to push these triggers in a certain order, effectively eliminating the potential for unintentional discharge. But contact trip triggers, like we mentioned before, don’t. You can hold the manual trigger continuously, and “bump” the gun’s nose over and over, firing a nail each time. For a more detailed description of contact trip triggers, click here.
While this design might improve worker productivity, it doesn’t do anything for worker safety. The UNC study found that 20% of all nail gun accidents were caused by the accidental contact of a gun’s nose trigger. Some of these accidents can be explained by simple carelessness. Workers routinely walk around with their fingers on the trigger, even when it’s not in use. Bump into anything, including a coworker’s body, and the nailer might discharge accidentally. But in reality, that’s not as common as you would think.
A staggering 19% of the accidental contact accidents occurred during another type of accident: a slip and fall. With their finger on the trigger, workers can bump the contact tip against a surface or their own bodies as they fall to the ground. Fasteners go flying, into the surrounding air or directly into a body part, and cause severe injury.
2. Double Fire: The Danger Of Recoil
With all that pent up power, it’s understandable that nail guns provide a healthy dose of kickback after each firing. Unfortunately, we all share the tendency to compensate for recoil, by pushing the nailer back towards the work again. If we push a little too hard, the safety tip can come back into contact with the work, firing another nail. But because we’re not expecting this second nail at all, it rarely ends up where we would like.
In more than 20% of all nail gun injuries, this sort of misfire, double firing, is likely the primary cause. But the problem is largely limited to contact trip triggers. Mechanical engineers have found that a nail gun’s cycle is literally too fast, beyond human reaction time. In moments of recoil, there’s no time to remove your finger from the trigger and prevent a double fire. These findings have led several academics to conclude that contact trip triggers, which have no built-in mechanism to eliminate misfires, are inherently more dangerous than they have to be. These accidents, they say, are a result of poor, and potentially negligent design.
3. Disabling The Safety
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) “strictly prohibits” tampering with any of a nail gun’s safety features. This includes removing the spring from a nailer’s contact tip or tying down the manual trigger. These practices dramatically increase the risk of unintentional discharge.
There’s no good reason to disable your safeties, and it’s a crime.
4. Nail Gun Defects: Is It Manufacturer Negligence?
The last three causes of nail gun injury involved human error. Some were innocent, and others less so. But in many cases, it’s not the operator who’s to blame, but the nail gun itself.
Defective products are always troubling, but never moreso than when the product is already an inherently dangerous tool. Recently, the large Japanese conglomerate Hitachi recalled around 25,000 pneumatic nailers “due to injury hazards.” Nail gun models NR83A2(Y) and NR83A3 are affected. According to Hitachi Power Tools’ official website, the nailers “can jam and override the safety switch that permits only one nail to fire at a time, posing an injury risk.”
No injuries have been officially reported yet in relation to Hitachi’s deadly mistake, but victims may be entitled to compensation. You can find more information on nail gun recalls here.
Projectile Nails: Fastener Ricochet & Missing The Work
Projectile nails, fasteners that went flying off into space, accounted for 41% of all the nailer injuries studied by the researchers at UNC. In most of these accidents, nails either missed the intended work entirely or ricocheted off the piece.
Misses were usually caused by improper alignment, a matter of workers not checking their placement adequately. These accidents may be the result of negligence, and workers injured in similar ones are urged to contact an experienced personal injury lawyer immediately.
Nails can ricochet dangerously for a number of reasons. In 4% of injuries, fasteners struck tough knots within the work piece itself and bounced back. Other cases involved double fire, when the second, unintentionally-fired nail struck the first fastener’s head.
Nailer accidents are most common among residential carpenters, particularly during the framing and sheathing stage of a building’s construction. It’s not hard to see why: framing nail guns are more powerful than other types and framing jobs require more nails than most other tasks.
But framing also requires workers to assume awkward positions, nailing into corners and at odd angles. Framers must use extra caution when:
- Nailing over their own heads
- Toe nailing
- Nailing in cramped spaces
- Using a nail gun on ladders
The Role Of Negligence In Nail Gun Injuries
Most worksites are crowded. Architects, engineers, and numerous workers – everyone’s trying to finish the project in a timely manner, and some tasks are more rushed than others. But when deadlines draw near, and corners are cut, safety can fall by the wayside. Negligence happens when we drop our guard, and fail to perform potentially dangerous duties with the proper care. Unfortunately, negligence can lead to serious injury, especially when nail guns are involved.
While state workers compensation laws prevent workers from directly suing their employers, many nail gun injuries are caused by the negligence of contractors and sub-contractors. The victims of nail gun accidents may be entitled to compensation, by pursuing a personal injury lawsuit.
Contact A Nail Gun Accident Lawyer
Were you injured in a nail gun accident? Did you suffer harm because of a negligent worker, or defective nail gun?
A personal injury lawsuit will allow you to pursue damages for necessary medical expenses and lost wages, along with “non-economic damages” like pain and suffering. The personal injury lawyers at Banville Law can help. Our focus is on your full recovery. But more than that, we want to secure your future well-being.
Contact our nail gun injury attorneys today for a free consultation. We’ll review your case, and provide experienced guidance on the best course of action. Don’t hesitate; our legal services are offered on a contingency-fee basis. You don’t pay until we win for you. Call 877-752-0980 or complete our contact form here.
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