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Author: Jamie Wetherington

Back To Basics: Nail Gun Safety In 5 Steps

Due to its ability to shave hours off the work day, the nail gun is one of most common tools in the roofing industry. While it is a great tool, it is also incredible dangerous if not used properly. Improper nail gun safety is responsible for tens of thousands of injuries each year. More than half of these reported nail gun injuries are to the hand and fingers. One quarter of these hand injuries involve structural damage to tendons, joints, nerves, and bones. After hands, the next most often injured are the leg, knee, thigh, foot, and toes.

A study of Florida’s workers’ compensation data, reviled an average total cost of $692,548/yr from nail gun injuries during the course of the 9 year study period, worth an average cost of $1,723 per claim. It also found 20% of claims resulted in more than 3 days away from work. This article will examine five easy steps to protect employers from the hazards of nail guns.

  1. Choosing The Right Trigger

The full sequential trigger is the safest trigger mechanism for all jobs, because it will only fire a nail when the controls are activated in a certain order.

The order calls for employees to first push the safety contact tip into the working surface and then pull the trigger to discharge a nail. To fire a second nail the user need to repeat the process, thus preventing bump firing, single shot trigger, restrictive trigger, or trigger fire mode.

Due to this firing mechanism there is a fear amongst contractors the full sequential trigger slows workers down. The one available study available on the topic, which had 10 experienced framers stick-build two identical small (8 ft x 10 ft) wood structures—one using a sequential trigger nail gun and one using a contact trigger nail gun, found average nailing time using the contact trigger was 10% faster, which accounted for less than 1% of the total building time.

If your workplace uses both types of triggers at a minimum use the full sequential triggers when lumber must be held by hand. Examples include building walls and nailing blocking, fastening studs to plates and blocks to studs, and installing trusses.

Also restrict inexperienced employees to full sequential trigger nail guns because of their inexperience. If you use more than one type of trigger on the job think about some color coding or identification system to differentiate between trigger types.

  1. Provide Training

In terms of safety training for nail guns topics you need to cover include:

  • How nail guns work and how triggers differ.
  • Main causes of injuries – especially differences among types of triggers.
  • Inspection
  • Maintenance
  • Manufactures Instructions
  • Risk associated with nail gun usage

In addition to these informative meetings you need to host hands on training with employees on the specific nail guns they will use. Topics to address through this hands on training include:

  • How to load the nail gun
  • How to operate the air compressor
  • How to fire the nail gun
  • How to recognize and approach ricochet-prone work surfaces
  • How to handle awkward position work (e.g., toe-nailing and work on ladders)

Training is a great way to not only educate new workers, but a fantastic method to remind the grisly veteran of the hazards and proper usage.

When conducting training it is important to keep it engaging, easy to understand and short. One great method of conducting effective training is to break the topic into smaller sub topics and host brief safety meetings, at the start of each day.

  1. Establish Nail Gun Work Procedures


  • Manuals for the nailers’ used on the job are easily accessible.
  • Manufacturers’ tool labels and instructions are understood and followed.
  • Tools and power sources are checked before usage to ensure they are in proper working order. If not they are immediately removed from service. Broken or malfunctioning nail guns are immediately removed from service.
  • Lumber is checked for knots, nails, straps, hangers- can cause recoil or ricochet before nailing.
  • For placement work, employees keep hands at least 12 inches away from the nailing.
  • When possible use clamps to brace instead of your hands.
  • Always shoot nail guns away from your body and away from co-workers.
  • Always disconnect the compressed air when:
  • Leaving a nailer unattended;
  • Travelling up and down a ladder or stairs;
  • Passing the nail gun to a co-worker;
  • Clearing jammed nails


  1. Take Extra Precaution At Awkward Angles.

The following instances describe the perception of what an awkward angle could look like- When using a hammer and unable to reach work, whiile holding the nailer with your dominant hand. When using a hammer for work at face or head height, because of the difficulty of dealing with recoil. When a hammer or full sequential trigger nailer is being used while working in a tight space. If a nail gun with teeth is being used when toe nailing to prevent slippage.


  • Bypass or disable nail gun safety features. Tampering includes removing the spring from the safety-contact tip or securing the trigger so it does not need to be pressed. Tampering increases the chance a nail gun will fire unintentionally. Not only does the manufacture strongly recommend against tampering, but OSHA requires tools be maintained in a safe condition.
  • Carry a nail gun with your finger on the trigger.
  • Lower, raise or carry a nail gun by the hose. If the gun gets caught on something don’t pull it.
  • Use the non-dominant hand to operate the nail gun.


  1. Provide Personal Protective Equipment (Ppe)

One of the most important parts of nail gun safety is the usage of personal protective equipment. Employers must provide the following equipment:

  • Hard hats
  • High Impact eye protection – safety glasses or goggles marked ANSI Z87.1
  • Hearing protection – either earplugs or earmuffs

Being prepared is KEY!



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