Six Steps to Nail Gun Safety

Six Steps to Nail Gun Safety

Do you own a nail gun? If so, then there is one incredibly important thing to keep top of mind: safety. A nail gun can be an essential tool for various DIY projects, but these tools need to be used responsibly to avoid potential injuries and hazards. That’s why it’s paramount that you practice safe procedures whenever handling a nail gun, whether that means during operation or simply transporting it from one place to another. 

With the help of this blog post, we’ll provide guidance on best practices for remaining safe while using your nail gun, from pre-use inspections through proper storage. Read on for our six steps to successful nailgun safety!

Six Steps to Nail Gun Safety

Let’s discuss the best practices for safe nail gun use. Here are the six steps you should follow to ensure your safety when handling a nail gun:

1. Use The Full Sequential Trigger 

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. Examples include building walls and nailing blocking, fastening studs to plates and blocks to studs, and installing trusses.

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. Examples of flat work include roofing, sheathing, and subflooring.

  • Consider restricting inexperienced employees to full sequential trigger nail guns starting. Some contractors use more than one type of trigger on their jobs and color-code the nail guns so that workers and supervisors can readily identify the type of trigger.
  • Some contractors have been reluctant to use full sequential triggers, fearing productivity loss. How do the different types of triggers compare?

The one available study 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. Small structures were built in this study so that each carpenter would have time to complete two sheds.

The average nailing time using the contact trigger was 10% faster, which accounted for less than 1% of the total building time when cutting and layout were included.11 However, in this study, the trigger type was less important to overall productivity than who was using the tool; this suggests productivity concerns should focus on the carpenter’s skill rather than on the trigger.

Nail Gun Safety

Although the study did not evaluate framing a residence or light commercial building, it shows that productivity is not just about the trigger. The wood structures built for the study did include common types of nailing tasks (flat nailing, through nailing, toe-nailing) and allowed comparisons for both total average nailing time and overall project time. The study did not compare productivity differences for each nailing task used to build the sheds.

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. Here is a list of topics for training:

  • How nail guns work and how triggers differ.
  • Main causes of injuries – especially differences among types of triggers.
  • Instructions are provided in manufacturer tool manuals and where the manual is kept.
  • Hands-on training with the actual nailers to be used on the job. This allows each employee to handle the nailer and to get feedback on topics such as:
How to load the nail gun?
How to operate the air compressor?
How to fire the nail gun?
How to hold lumber during placement work?
How to recognize and approach ricochet-prone work surfaces?
How to handle awkward position work (e.g., toe-nailing and work on ladders)?
How best to handle special risks associated with contact and single actuation triggers such as nail gun recoil and double fires. For example, coach new employees on how to minimize double fires by allowing the nail gun to recoil rather than continuing to push against the gun after it fires.
  • What to do when a nail gun malfunctions.
  • Training should also cover items covered in the following sections of the guidance, such as company nail gun work procedures, personal protective equipment, injury reporting, and first aid and medical treatment.

3. Establish Nail Gun Work Procedures

Contractors should develop their own nail gun work rules and procedures to address risk factors and make the work as safe as possible. Examples of topics for contractor work procedures include but are not limited to the following:


  • Make sure that tool manuals for the nailers used on the job are always available on the job site.
  • Make sure that manufacturers’ tool labels and instructions are understood and followed. • 
  • Check tools and power sources before operating to ensure they are in proper working order. Take broken or malfunctioning nail guns out of service immediately.
  • Set up operations so that workers are not in the line of fire from nail guns being operated by co-workers.
  • Check lumber surfaces before nailing. Look for knots, nails, straps, hangers, etc. that could cause recoil or ricochet.
  • Use a hammer or positive placement nailer when nailing metal joinery or irregular lumber.
  • For placement work, keep hands at least 12 inches away from the nailing point at all times. Consider using 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;
Traveling up and down a ladder or stairs;
Passing the nail gun to a co-worker;
Clearing jammed nails;
Performing any other maintenance on the nail gun.
  • Recognize the dangers of awkward position work and provide extra time and precautions:
Use a hammer if you cannot reach the work while holding the nailer with your dominant hand.
Use a hammer or reposition for work at the face or head height. Recoil is more difficult to control and could be dangerous.
Use a hammer or full sequential trigger nailer when working in a tight space. Recoil is more difficult to control, and double fires could occur with contact triggers.
Take extra care with toe-nailing. Nail guns can slip before or during firing because the gun cannot be held flush against the workpiece. Use a nail gun with teeth on the safety contact to bite into the workpiece to keep the gun from slipping during the shot. Use the trigger to fire only after the safety contact piece is positioned.
  • Recognize the dangers of nail gun work at height and provide extra time and precautions:
Set up jobs to minimize the need for nailing at height.
Consider using scaffolds instead of ladders.
If work must be done on ladders, use full sequential trigger nailers to prevent nail gun injuries which could occur from bumping a leg while climbing up or down a ladder.
Position ladders, so you don’t have to reach too far. Your belt buckle should stay between the side rails when reaching the side.
Maintain three points of contact with the ladder at all times to prevent a fall—clamps may need to be used for placement work. Holding a nailer in one hand and the workpiece with the other provides only two points of contact (your feet). Reaching and recoiling can make you lose your balance and fall. Falls, especially with contact trigger nailers, can result in nail gun injuries.


  • Never bypass or disable nail gun safety features. This is strictly prohibited. Tampering includes removing the spring from the safety-contact tip and/or tying it down, taping, or securing the trigger so it does not need to be pressed. Tampering increases the chance that the nail gun will fire unintentionally both for the current user and anyone else who may use the nail gun. Nail gun manufacturers strongly recommend against tampering, and OSHA requires that tools be maintained safely. There is NO legitimate reason to modify or disable a nail gun safety device.
  • Encourage workers to keep their fingers off the trigger when holding or carrying a nail gun. If this is not natural, workers should use a full sequential nail gun or set down the nailer until they begin to nail again.
  • Never lower the nail gun from above or drag the tool by the hose. If the nail-gun hose gets caught on something, don’t pull on the hose. To find the problem and release the hose.
  • Never use the nailer with the non-dominant hand.
Nail Gun Safety Tips

4. Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Safety shoes, which help protect workers’ toes from nail gun injuries, are typically required by OSHA on residential construction sites. In addition, employers should provide, at no cost to employees, the following protective equipment for workers using nail guns:

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

5. Encourage Reporting And Discussion Of Injuries And Close Calls

Studies show that many nail gun injuries go unreported. Employers should ensure that their policies and practices encourage reporting of nail gun injuries. Reporting helps ensure that employees get medical attention (see #6 below). It also helps contractors to identify unknown job site risks that could lead to additional injuries if not addressed. Injuries and close calls provide teachable moments that can help improve crew safety.

If you have a safety incentive program, ensure it does not discourage workers from reporting injuries. Employers who underreport work-related injuries will violate OSHA’s injury and illness recordkeeping regulation.

6. Provide First Aid And Medical Treatment

Employers and workers should seek medical attention immediately after nail gun injuries, even for hand injuries that appear to be minimal. Studies suggest that 1 out of 4 nail gun hand injuries can involve some type of structural damage, such as a bone fracture. 

Materials such as nail strip glue, plastic, or even clothing can get embedded in the injury and lead to infection. Barbs on the nail can cause secondary injury if the nail is removed incorrectly. These complications can be avoided by having workers seek immediate medical care.


Nail gun injuries are painful. Some cause severe injuries or death. Nail gun injuries have been rising, along with the increased popularity of these powerful tools. These injuries can be prevented, and more and more contractors are making changes to improve nail gun safety. Take a look at your practices and use this guide to improve safety on your job sites. Working together with tool gun manufacturers, safety and health professionals, and other organizations, we can reduce nail gun injuries.

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