DURHAM, N.C. – According to new statistics that would make Bob Vila cringe, the number of injuries from nail guns has almost doubled since 2001. And researchers say that more and more it is do-it-yourselfers who are feeling the pain.
In fact, the number of weekend carpenters treated each year for nail gun injuries in emergency rooms in U.S. hospitals more than tripled between 1991 and 2005, increasing to about 14,800 per year, according to an analysis by researchers at Duke University Medical Center and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Nail guns typically use compressed air to drive nails into wood. First used by construction workers and professional carpenters, the guns now are sold routinely in hardware stores and home improvement centers.
The Duke researchers said that many injuries caused by nail guns could be prevented by using tools that fire only when the nose piece is depressed before the trigger is pulled. This “sequential” trigger mechanism is designed to prevent rapid, unintentional firing, but it has not been used as much as tools that allow the user to rapidly “bounce fire’ nails.
The findings appear in the April 13, 2007, issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“These kinds of injuries are often seen as bizarre accidents, but they actually occur fairly frequently and we know quite a bit about factors that contribute to them,” said Hester Lipscomb, Ph.D., an associate professor of occupational and environmental medicine and author of the new report. She has long studied nail gun injuries among construction workers, but she says this is the first such analysis of injuries among consumers.
"The increases in injuries are likely related to availability of these tools on the consumer market and the steady decline in the costs of tools and air compressors," Lipscomb said. "The frequency of such injuries that are treated in emergency departments in professional workers have remained relatively flat; however, the tools are now readily accessible to consumers, extending what has been largely an occupational hazard to the general public."
For her analysis, Lipscomb used data collected from emergency departments across the country by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Injuries to consumers and workers largely involve puncture wounds to the hands and fingers, with wounds to the forearms, wrists, legs and feet less common. Of the injured consumers and workers, 6 percent were admitted to the hospital, while the others were treated in the emergency department and released.
About 96 percent of the injured consumers were male, with an average age of 35.
Lipscomb believes the widespread adoption of safer sequential-trip triggers could reduce the number of injuries, both for professional and weekend carpenters.
"While safety training offers an important way of reducing injuries, we believe that the adoption of the safer triggers would be more effective, especially since many consumers – and even workers -- do not receive adequate safety training," she said. She also said many users are not aware of the different types of nail gun triggers and thus may not be able to make a fully informed decision.
Lipscomb recommends that consumers purchase nail guns with a sequential-trip trigger or purchase kits to convert their current nail gun triggers to the safer type.
"The increased production of new nail guns with the sequential-trip trigger and the availability of conversion kits at home improvement centers will hopefully go a long way toward reducing injuries," Lipscomb said.