5 Surefire Steps for Nail Gun Safety

Mike Rich

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 Washington state workers’ compensation data, reviled an average total cost of $692,548 per year from nail gun injuries during the course of the nine year study period, worth an average cost of $1,723 per claim. The study also found 20% of claims resulted in more than three 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, singleshot 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.

2. Provide training

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.

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:

1. How to load the nail gun

2. How to operate the air compressor

3. How to fire the nail gun

4. How to recognize and approach ricochet-prone work surfaces

5. How to handle awkward position work (e.g., toe-nailing and work on ladders)

3.    Establish nail gun work procedures

One of the most important steps of nail gun safety is the development of work procedures. These procedures establish safe operations, maintenance schedule and more. Best of all this written policy is a living breathing document showing your company has the proper procedures in place.


1. Manuals for the nailers used on the job are easily accessible.

2. Manufacturers’ tool labels and instructions are understood and followed.

3. 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.

4. All lumber is checked for knots, nails, straps, hangers, etc. that could cause recoil or ricochet before nailing.

5. For placement work, employees keep hands at least 12 inches away from the nailing.

6. When possible use clamps to brace instead of your hands.

7. Always shoot nail guns away from your body and away from co-workers.

8. Always disconnect the compressed air when:

9. Leaving a nailer unattended;

10. Travelling up and down a ladder or stairs;

11. Passing the nail gun to a co-worker;

12. Clearing jammed nails

Take extra precaution at awkward angles.

1. Using a hammer if you cannot reach the work while holding the nailer with your dominant hand.

2. Using a hammer for work at face or head height, because of the difficulty of dealing with recoil.

3. Using a hammer or full sequential trigger nailer when working in a tight space.

4. Using a nail gun with teeth when toe nailing to prevent slippage.


1. 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.

2. Carry a nail gun with your finger on the trigger.

3. Lower, raise or carry a nail gun by the hose. If the gun gets caught on something don’t pull it.

4. Use the non-dominant hand to operate the nail gun.

4.    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:

1. Hard hats

2. High Impact eye protection – safety glasses or goggles marked ANSI Z87.1

3. Hearing protection – either earplugs or earmuffs

5.   Report Injuries

One of the most impactful tools of safety training is the real life encounters of one’s peers. That’s why it is important whenever an injury occurs, no matter how significant or minor, the employee reports the incident to his employer. After the injury is reported the employer should encourage the injured to come forward and tell his tale to his colleges to help them prevent similar injury.

If the employee isn’t willing to come forward, the employer should still address the cause of injury with the employees.

Call (877) 201-8923 today to speak with one of our safety solutions experts.



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