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Nail gun safety considerations

It's not often that nail guns become a topic of interest in the news. But a recent accident in Wisconsin has put the focus on nail guns. Nail gun safety is a critical issue in the homebuilding and remodeling industry.

On June 25, 2017, Doug Bergeson was using a nail gun while framing a fireplace in his house. The gun misfired and sent a nail ricocheting off some lumber and into his heart. Staying calm, he climbed into his pickup truck, drove to the hospital, parked the truck, and walked into the emergency room. Doctors say that Bergeson came very close to dying. Only about an inch of the three-inch nail was protruding from his chest and it was lodged about 1/16 of an inch from a major artery.

Looking back on the event, Mr. Bergeson said "I could see the nail moving with my heartbeat. It was kind of twitching with every heartbeat."

Nail gun safety advice

Doug Bergeson was very lucky that day. Nail gun accidents can cause serious injuries, hand injuries in particular. Occasionally, fatalities are recorded.

Most of these accidents do not have to happen. By taking a few safety precautions, carpenters and handymen can minimize the possibility of injury. Here are some basic rules for avoiding a nail gun injury:

  • Never use "bump-fire" or "automatic-fire" nail guns. These are tools that allow nails to fire without depressing the safety tip.
  • Instead, use a "single-shot" or "sequential" nail gun. These tools require the user to press the safety tip directly on to wood before it will fire.
  • Always wear safety glasses when holding or using a nail gun.
  • Hold and carry a nail gun with your finger OFF the trigger.
  • Never carry a nail gun holding the air hose. Always carry it by holding the handle (grip). 
  • If it's possible in the position you are in, keep your free hand at least 12 inches from the hand holding the gun.
  • To avoid a hand injury, allow sufficient space for the recoil or kickback of the gun.
  • Take extra care when operating a nail gun on a ladder or scaffold. The kickback from the gun could knock you off balance.
  • When nailing plywood, know where the joist or stud is before you pull the trigger.
  • Never try to extricate a jammed nail while the gun is attached to the air hose. Disconnect the hose before removing a jammed nail or before performing maintenance.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has published a comic book entitled Straight Talk About Nail Gun Safety that provides many additional tips on avoiding injury while using a nail gun. The humorous format of the book belies the seriousness of the subject. Anyone who uses a nail gun, either as a professional or a hobbyist, can benefit from reading this book.

Have you suffered a nail gun injury while working on a construction site? If so, you may be eligible for workers' compensation benefits. Speak with an attorney if you have questions about your claim.

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