Nail gun injuries pose everyday threat to carpenters

I worked as a carpenter to pay my way through college and law school. Usually I worked on a framing crew run by Roy and Ben Cantrell. I worked every summer and most breaks. I had a few injuries for which I filed worker’s compensation claims for medical bills. I missed three days of work once after I shot a nail through the middle of my big toe.

The average house requires 50,000 to 70,000 nails, so pneumatic nail guns get a lot of use, and cause a lot of injuries. Nail gun injuries account for 14 percent of residential carpentry injuries. The non-dominant hand is injured the most, as you would expect. The medical literature reports injuries to every body part, including the brain, spinal cord, bowels and eyes. I once witnessed a nail ricochet off the edge of a 2x4 and hit a coworker on the edge of the eye socket before cutting his ear. If it had gone a quarter inch over, it would have pierced his eye and lodged in his brain. A few years before I started working with the Cantrells, a carpenter nailed his foot to the top plate of a wall when he was nailing down a ceiling joist. They tried to pull the nail out with a crow bar, but stopped when he almost passed out and fell. They ended up cutting a section of the top plate off and took him to the hospital with it still nailed to his foot.

Nail gun injuries have a lot of causes. Nail ricochet, double firing, pass-through of material and faulty safety mechanisms are frequent causes. However, workers are often blamed for inattention and employers are blamed for failing to train. The reason I shot myself through my toe is that we had taken the safety off the gun because it made the gun hard to operate. I bumped the gun as I brought it to the board, and it fired about six inches away from my foot. We didn’t think we were being careless or unsafe; we were just trying to get the job done.

For more information, check out this article by the Department of Labor and Industries.