Nail gun safety: how to tame this deadly hazard

Jul 04, 2014

Nail gun safetyBy Norman Kramer

Nail guns are powerful time savers, but can be as deadly as a weapon. Think about the training and licensing necessary before a person is permitted to purchase and operate a firearm for the purposes of hunting. How much training do we put into ensuring our nail gun operators are competent?

Consider this unusual case. An Idaho construction worker Damon Huhtala, 26, was killed instantly after tripping, tumbling backwards and accidentally firing a large nail into his brain stem with his nail gun. Why did this happen? Tragically, the root cause is as simple as operating a nail gun in a work environment that had a lot of trip hazards.

What you need to know when operating air nailers

  • Keep hands and body at least 12 inches away from the tool's discharge area; a contact arm tool may bounce from recoil and a second fastener may cause injury.
  • Check lumber surfaces before nailing. Look for knots and straps or other hard objects that could cause recoil or ricochet.
  • Before clearing a blockage from the tool, disconnect the air supply and ensure the air is exhausted from the tool by directing the nose piece onto a safe work surface and depressing the trigger.
  • Never permit the gun to cross over any part of your body.
  • Do not drive fasteners on top of other fasteners or use the tool at an overly steep angle as this may cause the fasteners to deflect.
  • Do not drive fasteners close to the edge of the work piece as the wood may split, possibly causing fasteners to deflect.
  • Never use the tool in a manner that could cause a fastener to be directed toward the user or others in the work area.
  • Do not keep trigger pulled on contact arm tools except during fastening operations.
  • Keep your work area free of obstructions that could interfere with nailing.

Next steps

To build a strong safety culture, reinforce safety on a regular basis. In this instance,

  • regularly conduct short talks on nail gun safety and post related safety messages on your health and safety bulletin board.
  • keep the talks simple. For example, start off by telling your staff about an incident you know of involving a nail gun.
  • make your training relevant by demonstrating safety tips (see "Topics to include," below). Spend as much time on the safety tips as you feel the workers need.
  • include workers who have been performing the job for a while. Complacency can create a false sense of safety. From experience, workers paid piecework, which rewards them for working quickly, particularly need reminders not to cut corners.

To demonstrate that your company is taking a proactive approach to safety, maintain records of training content and attendance. Make sure all new employees take your training before operating equipment.

Topics to include in your nail gun training

Adjust this list as needed to reflect nail gun use in your workplace:

  • how to load the nail gun
  • how to operate the air compressor
  • how to fire the nail gun
  • how to hold lumber to prevent hand injury
  • how to recognize and approach ricochet-prone work surfaces
  • how to handle risks associated with specific types of nail gun, such as minimizing double fire by permitting the nail gun to recoil
  • what to do when the nail gun malfunctions
  • personal protective equipment.

This article was first published by the Canadian Wood Pallet and Container Association. Norman Kramer is a WSPS consultant who is working with the association on a series of safety resources and tools. Topics were identified through a membership needs survey; 905-614-1400, ext. 2023;