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Safety Check: Nail Gun Safety Tips
Safety tips identify ways that pallet companies can reduce nail gun related accidents. New OSHA guide offers lessons for pallet builders.

By Staff
Date Posted: 12/1/2012

                It’s hard to find a pallet plant without nail guns. But it can be easy to take them for granted and create unsafe working conditions in the process. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has developed a nail gun safety guide that is available in both English and Spanish versions. Although designed for the commercial construction industry, the guide has many important lessons for pallet companies too.

                One thing the guide suggests is that companies use nail tools with a full sequential trigger. OSHA claims, “The full sequential trigger is always the safest trigger mechanism for the job. It reduces the risk of unintentional nail discharge and double fires—including injuries from bumping into co-workers… At a minimum, provide full sequential trigger nailers for placement work where the lumber needs to be held in place by hand. Unintended nail discharge is more likely to lead to a hand or arm injury for placement work compared to flat work, where the lumber does not need to be held in place by hand.”

                The problem is that full sequential triggers can significantly affect the productivity of workers, which explains why most pallet shops don’t use this safety device. K.G. Sims, a fastening engineering and sales consultant, said, “A full sequential trigger changes how fast the tool can cycle as well as how you hold and use the tool…This added safety device can cut productivity by 35-40%.”

                “Bump firing has become popular in the pallet industry. It’s strictly a speed issue – the difference between firing a gun compared to a machine gun,” said George Skarich, executive vice president of sales, for Mid Continent Nail Corp. Using a full sequential trigger makes bump firing impossible.

                Skarich added, “OSHA will say bump firing is more dangerous. But the guys in the plants will just tell you that’s just OSHA being OSHA. The faster you go, the higher the likelihood of something going wrong. At the end of the day, the guys who are causing problems are the ones who aren’t paying attention. There is nothing inherently wrong with bump firing if you are smart and safe about how you handle a tool.”

                Despite the speed reduction, Sims did say that some companies have added full sequential triggers if they had employee safety problems and wanted to reduce legal exposure. Adding extra safety devices can create an extra hassle for management if workers try to remove or disable these devices. Some of the most common examples of workers trying to bypass the safety system are: (1) removing the spring from the safety yoke, (2) removing the spring and tying the yoke up in the actuated position, and (3) tying up the trigger lever in the actuated position. 

                Sims added that tool and fastener suppliers are obligated to fix any problems with safety devices they find in the course of normal or routine repair and maintenance they may perform on tools they loan or agree to service for the customer, which can add extra cost to the process if employees are always disabling them. “The hardest thing a company faces when trying to institute tougher safety devices and practices is to hold employees accountable, especially top performers who will want to bypass safety protocols,” he said.

                According to OSHA, nail gun injuries are responsible for approximately 37,000 emergency room visits each year. Although this tool is easy to operate and increases productivity, injuries occur as a result of unintended nail discharge; nails that bounce off a hard surface or miss the work piece and become airborne; and disabling the gun’s safety features, among other causes.

                To order these or many other safety educational materials, call OSHA at 202/693-1999.


Six Steps to Nail Gun Safety

1. Inspect and Monitor Safety Devices – Make sure that all safety devices are working properly and not disabled. Hold employees accountable and make sure that they do not bypass safety devices, such as the spring loaded safety yolk that comes standard on most nail guns used in the pallet industry. Employees should always check the nail guns before using them to ensure there are no obvious signs of a problem.

2. Provide Training – Both new and experienced workers can benefit from safety training to learn about the causes of nail gun injuries and specific steps to reduce them. Be sure that training is provided in a manner that employees can understand, such as Spanish for workers whose primary language is Spanish. Instruction should cover how the gun works, main causes of injuries, loading and firing the gun, air compressor operation and settings, how to recognize and approach ricochet-prone work surfaces, required safety equipment, and what to do when a nail gun malfunctions. Also, cover any company-specific policies or practices.

3. Establish Nail Gun Work Procedures – Your company should develop procedures and make sure that they are followed. Failure to comply with those policies should not go uncorrected. For example, you may want to design work stations to include a side mount where guns can be placed while not in use. Set up operations so that workers are not in the line of fire from nail guns being operated by co-workers. Keep hands at least 12 inches away from the nailing point at all times. Always shoot nail guns away from your body and away from co-workers.

4. Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – Safety shoes, which help protect workers’ toes from nail gun injuries, are a good idea as well as compliant hearing and eye protection. Check the applicable regulations to determine what is required by law.

5. Disconnect Air Pressure – Always disconnect the compressed air when loading or unloading fasteners, leaving the nail gun unattended, passing the device to a co-worker, clearing jammed nails or performing any other maintenance on the nail gun.

6. Encourage Incident Reporting – Studies show that many nail gun injuries go unreported. Employers should ensure that their policies and practices encourage reporting of nail gun injuries or incidents. Reporting helps ensure that employees get medical attention as well as employees learn the proper way to use the tools at their disposal.  If you have a safety incentive program, be sure that it does not discourage workers from reporting injuries. Employers that intentionally underreport work-related injuries will be in violation of OSHA’s injury and illness recordkeeping regulation.


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