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As a residential roofer, one of your top tools will be a roofing nail gun (often called a “roofing nailer”). It will help you fasten shingles or other roofing materials, such as underlayments, quickly and efficiently.
Although there are other types of nail guns available – such as siding nail guns – manufacturers have developed specific nail guns for roofers – these use roofing nails and are designed to install the nail tight to the shingle.
Roofing nail guns are widely celebrated for making shingle installation more efficient – roofers find nail guns help them install shingles faster and feel less tired afterward, versus manually pounding in each nail.
However, as with all power tools, nail guns bring with them important safety considerations users must keep in mind at all times. Thanks to their fast application, nail guns boost productivity in a wide variety of contracting jobs; however, nail guns also cause tens of thousands of painful injuries each year, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In Canada, some experts estimate up to 30% of workers have experienced an injury at the hands of a nail gun.
By becoming familiar with common nail gun safety rules, you’ll be able to complete your work confidently and easily – all while knowing you’re reducing your chance of injury.
More then half of nail gun injuries happen to the hands and fingers, and can cause damage to the tendons, joints, nerves, and bones. The next more common type of nail gun injury is to the leg, knee, thigh, foot, and toes. Less common, but still reported, are injuries to the forearm or wrist, head and neck, and trunk – all of which can lead to painful or long-term damage to your body. (Source: OSHA.)
There are three general types of power sources for nail guns: pneumatic, fuel powered and battery powered, each with different advantages and drawbacks.
Pneumatic nail guns
Pneumatic nail guns are hooked up to air compressors to allow for forceful insertion of the nail into the working material. Pneumatic nail guns allow plenty of power, but take a few seconds to build up pressure, unlike fuel powered or battery powered nail guns.
When choosing this type of tool, ensure the air compressor you buy along with it is compatible with your nail gun (manufacturer guidelines will specify which compressor to look for).
There is a considerable price advantage with these nail guns: they can run as little as half the cost of a cordless version.
A note about air compressor safety – Any pneumatic power tools that use compressed air, like nail guns, are regulated by OSHA. Familiarize yourself with their regulations for pneumatic power tools, which include requirements like: securing the hose, safety devices for the muzzle attachment, safe operating air pressure levels and proper hoisting techniques. Also, ensure your gun is unhooked from the air compressor when not in use to prevent accidental firing.
Fuel powered nail guns
These operate with an attachable fuel chamber that uses an electrical spark to ignite and burn the fuel (such as butane). They are fast and powerful but the cartridge must be changed regularly. These cost more than the traditional pneumatic nail gun.
Battery powered nail guns
Although these don’t offer the same power as the first two types of nail gun power sources, battery-powered nail guns can be handy for getting into hard to reach places. With a rechargeable battery, you can cut down on the cost of using non-reusable fuel cartridges as you do with a fuel powered nail gun.
Like the fuel powered nail gun, battery powered nail guns remove the need to worry about an air compressor hose on the roof.
OSHA offers these top six nail gun safety tips. We dig into each one below to make them easy to follow and part of your everyday routine.
Working each of these steps into your work on the job site will make it easier to stay safe and prevent injuries.
1. Use a full sequential trigger
An important part of nail gun safety is knowing your tool. And because there is so much variety in trigger options, each with different levels of safety protection, the trigger is an important piece to think about.
Nail guns generally have four types of triggers: full sequential triggers, contact triggers, single sequential triggers and single actuation triggers. These are categorized according to how the user discharges the nail and how many nails can be released in a row. Some nail gun models offer the ability to switch between two different trigger types in a single gun. (Source: OSHA.)
Nail gun safety features
You’re twice as likely to injure yourself using a multi-shot trigger versus a full sequential trigger. With that type of statistic, it’s no wonder OSHA recommends using a full sequential trigger. Although it may seem like extra time or work, studies indicate the multi-shot trigger was about 10% faster for workers building a wooden structure; however, the skill of the person using the gun had more of an effect on productivity than the tool itself. Practice makes perfect and can make up for any speed gained from a less safe alternative!
2. Provide/attend training
Nail gun safety training is a must for anyone using a nail gun on the worksite. If you’re an employer, offer your workers regular training. These classes or courses should cover a variety of topics, including:
The training should also include instructions on wearing personal protective equipment, how to administer or receive first aid in case of an accident and how to report incidents and near-misses. (Source: OSHA). Interestingly, as nail gun design continues to make these tools lighter and easier to use, they have also become more popular – which means they are more likely to be used by workers who are unfamiliar with them. This makes regular training for all users even more important.
Where to find nail gun safety courses
Although many courses are available online, see if there is a live course available in your area. This will give you the opportunity to ask questions and interact with the nail gun while an instructor is present.
To find a suitable course, look for those certified by local or regional safety associations and be sure the material covers OSHA safety training requirements for nail guns and/or power tools, including the items listed above.
3. Establish nail gun work procedures
You should develop a series of written rules or guidelines for using nail guns on your worksite and you should ensure you and your coworkers follow them.
For example, some procedures might include
Your procedure can even be as detailed as outlining how to clean and store your compressor after use.
Wear Protective Personal Equipment (PPE)
Make sure that the safety equipment you wear on site also promotes nail gun safety. For example, you should always wear:
– Steel toed boots. To provide added protection from potential foot or toe injuries.
– Hard hats. For basic safety against work site hazards, including those posed by nail guns.
– Safety goggles. This will protect your eye from any projectiles – include a ricocheting nail. When researching safety goggles, search “safety glasses demonstration nail gun” on YouTube to see safety glasses manufacturer videos illustrating the power of their safety goggles against nail gun misfires.
– Ear plugs or hearing protection. These help to protect against the potentially damaging level of noise from the air compressor and being close to the nail gun while it fires. (This is more of a concern with pneumatic nail guns, but is a good idea on any work site where you are working around heavy machinery or power tools.)
Record, report and talk about incidents and near misses
One of the best ways to prevent future injuries is to keep a record of accidents that have taken place. Having a written record of the scenarios that led to an injury or potential incident gives you an opportunity to learn from the past. As a contractor or roofing employer, be sure to encourage your co-workers and teammates to openly talk about incidents so you can compare notes and share helpful nail gun safety tips.
Know how to access first aid
If an accident does happen with your nail gun, be sure to seek medical aid no matter how small the injury may seem – muscle or bone damage from the puncture wound is not uncommon with nail gun injuries. There is also threat of post-injury infection from cuts, scrapes or punctures.
OSHA has also compiled the top reasons nail gun injuries occur. These are the mishaps that nail gun safety rules seek to prevent.
Review the scenarios below to boost your awareness and consider how following basic nail gun safety rules can help reduce your risk.
Refer to this list for an easy refresher on properly – and safely – using your nail gun.
OSHA and other nail gun safety suggestions have been compiled based on statistics and real-life stories of worker injuries. By following these nail gun rules and suggestions, you can reduce your risk while still making the most of this handy instrument. This will give you a leg up in the industry, and put a powerful tool in your arsenal to continue creating beautiful, lasting roofs for your clients.
The information and safety tips contained in this article are intended as general information only, and are not a substitute for proper live training and compliance with all local occupational health and safety rules, regulations, guidelines and recommendations.
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