Every year, some 37,000 contractors and consumers end up in emergency rooms because of injuries caused by nail guns. A recent study of apprentice carpenters found that two out of five were injured using a nail gun during their four years of training, one in five was injured twice, and one in 10 was injured three or more times.
In light of those statistics, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) last week issued a 20-page nail gun safety guide for construction contractors.
The guide does not include new regulations for manufacturers or jobsite supervision. Instead, in the spirit of encouraging companies to provide a safe and healthful workplace environment (as they are mandated to do under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970), the guide discusses common causes of nail gun injuries and offers practical steps to prevent them.
Given that many experienced carpenters have left the housing industry or went out of business during the recession, the guide arrives at a time when builders and framing contractors might be reconsidering how best to retrain their remaining field workers.
OSHA concedes that it’s difficult to quantify the breadth of nail gun injuries because a certain percentage goes unreported. But using different field studies as its measures, the agency estimates that 68% of all nail-gun related emergency room visits involve workers. More than half of reported nail gun injuries are to hands or fingers, and one-quarter of hand injuries involve structural damage to tendons, joints, nerves, or bones.
The guide implies that injuries are often caused because workers aren’t trained sufficiently to use nail guns with varying trigger mechanisms that can fire nails at different speeds and sequences, and have different safety contacts.
Indeed, unintended nail discharge from double fires or knocking the safety contact while the trigger is squeezed are two of the seven major risk factors that can lead to nail-gun injury, the guide states. Others include nail penetration through lumber pieces or ricochets after hitting a hard surface; awkward position nailing, such as toe-nailing; and bypassing safety mechanisms, such as removing the spring from the safety contact tip, which can elevate the chances of an unintended discharge.
Among its six safety steps, OSHA recommends contractors use nail guns with full sequential triggers, which will fire a nail only when the controls are activated in a certain order. OSHA concedes that the nailing time of nail guns with contact triggers is 10% faster. But it also cites one study that found “the trigger type was less important to overall productivity than who was using the tool; this suggests that productivity concerns should focus on the skill of the carpenter rather than the trigger [of the gun].”
Consequently, the second safety step recommends that companies provide better equipment training, including how the guns work and how they can malfunction or cause injuries. Companies should also establish nail gun work procedures, provide personal protective equipment, encourage reporting and discussions of injuries and close calls, and provide first aid and medical treatment.
Contractors looking for more information about the safety guide can go to OSHA’s website or call 800-321-6742.
John Caulfield is senior editor for Builder magazine.