Nail Gun Safety

safety glasses hit by a nail gun nail

Every day, on construction sites and projects around the world, workers use nail guns.

Their benefits – powerful nail discharge, extreme portability and the boosts in speed and productivity they deliver, mean that they have a big place in any construction job site.

However, the other side of the power and speed of nail guns also means that they are responsible for thousands and thousands of accidents every year – some relatively minor, some extreme and carrying long-term impacts.

As with any powerful tool, nail guns demand good knowledge of safety practices and just what can go wrong. Knowing the risks goes a long way towards eliminating them.


A major cause for many construction and building injuries is a lack of knowledge about how to use the tool at hand, as the heart stopping moment in the video below, where a TV presenter "nearly shoots" herself in the face with a nail gun live on TV.

Most people, from either work or home DIY experience have an idea of how a power sander, chainsaw or nail gun works, but that does not mean they know the full ins and outs of the tool.  The YouTube Viral above may indeed have been a stunt, since the presenter was never in any real danger having previously been told which end of the nail gun was the business end, and since the tip of the gun has to be pressed onto something for it to trigger, IF the safety contact had not been modified or disabled, which we will go into later. That being said, a leading cause of injuries in nail gun use is a lack of familiarity with the different types of triggers that manufacturers use.

Contact Trigger: Contact triggers fire a nail when the safety contact – situated on the nose of the nail gun, and the trigger are activated together.

The order of activation does not matter. That means that the user could depress the trigger first then hold it to a surface and, upon contact, the gun will fire. If the trigger remains held down, the gun will fire every time the nose contacts a surface. This allows for ‘bump firing’, whereby a worker can keep the trigger depressed and quickly shoot a series of nails in a short amount of time.

This style of trigger is more dangerous than the full sequential trigger, because it greatly increase the probability for an accident to occur. For example, absent-mindedly keeping the trigger depressed and then accidentally touching the nose to any part of the body could easily result in a nail in a very painful place.

Full Sequential Trigger: Often considered the much safer trigger configuration, a full sequential trigger will only fire when the controls activate in a specific order.

The nose safety contact must first meet a surface and then the user pulls the trigger, discharging a nail into the desired surface. The user has to repeat the whole process again to fire another nail, making it much harder to lose control or accidentally fire. Sometimes known as a restrictive trigger or shot trigger.

Whilst the style of trigger used can have a great impact on safety, there are still many risks to their use and accidents will find a way to happen.

How Do Injuries Occur?

When firing nails at a high velocity, there are a number of variables that can go awry and lead to an accident. Some are due to worker inexperience or error and others are due to materials. Knowing what can go wrong helps see these potential problems before they become a painful reality.

Double Fire: A common mishap, double fires happen regularly for inexperience workers when using a contact trigger nail gun.

If unused to using a nail gun, the user can push down too hard on the nail gun when in use, trying to offset the powerful recoil. This can mean that the gun recoils and then, because of the force on it and the finger still on the trigger, falls to the surface and fires again.

This can result in injuries where the nail pieces the material and then injures the user. The recoil from contact can also damage the face or nose of the user if it catches them unaware.

Nail Penetration: The most common injuries involving nail penetration often come about when the nail pierces the wood and enters the dormant (non-nail gun wielding) hand.

Other times, the nail can hit a knot of wood inside timber and rapidly change direction – sometimes referred to as a ‘blow out’.

In this scenario, nails can exit the timber entirely, becoming airborne. While they do not retain their original velocity, they can still cause much damage to eyes or skin. This is why protective eyewear is essential when using a nail gun. Nails can also become airborne if the timbre is on top of a hard or metal surface.

Missing: In building, there are always awkward jobs in hard-to-reach places. When nailing along the edge of timbre, the trigger and nose safety contact can both depress, but the nail misses its target. That makes for nails becoming airborne or discharging into the floor, which could mean leg or foot injuries.

Bypassing or Modifying Features: Safety features and restrictions on tools exist for a reason, but that does not prevent some from modifying or removing safety features on their nail gun.

The intent might be to speed up their work but most times the result is simply going to be injury. Many construction businesses have strict rules about modifying tools, for the reason that they do not want their employees injuring themselves or worse.

Another consideration is that workers often share tools on a work site. If someone picks up a modified nail gun, unaware of the changes made to it, they could seriously hurt themselves or others.

Whilst the building trade will always remain hazardous, simple procedures and rules can make work sites a much safer place. Establishing the right procedures for nail gun use, providing in-depth training and encouraging reportage of accidents and near misses can go a long way toward reducing most nail gun-related injuries.