Late last year I posted a story about Eugene Rakow, a carpenter who accidentally shot himself in the heart with a nail gun while building a deck. Fortunately for Rakow and his family, he survived. Several weeks after the story was published I received a letter from Hester Lipscomb, a professor of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the Duke University Medical Center pointing out how common—and preventable—nail gun injuries are. Her bottom line: Carpenters should use sequential trip triggers.

We published Lipscomb’s letter and it drew a number of comments pro and con on sequential trip triggers. You can see a few of them below; the rest can be found here. The first comment is from Mike Guertin, a carpenter/contractor in Connecticut who is a longtime contributor to JLC and Tools of the Trade. There is also a letter from Jim Nolan, a 52 year member of the St. Louis Carpenters District Council who in 1999 began working with Lipscomb on a long-term survey of tradesmen who had been injured on the job. Nolan’s letter is posted at the bottom of this page and offers the kind of frank observations that are possible when one is old enough not to care what other people think.

Mike Guertin I became concerned about contact trip triggered nailers over 20 years ago after a series of framing nailer accidents guys on my framing crews had. All the injuries and close-calls could be attributed to user error BUT most would not have occurred if the nailers had sequential trip triggers. I swapped out the contact trip triggers for sequential triggers on nailers one day. It took a few weeks for us to develop a framing rhythm with the sequential triggers but once we got the knack we didn't really notice any reduction in the pace of framing.

I believe that all major framing nailer makers ship their tools with gray (sequential) or switchable triggers. Most of the knock-off models that I've seen have black (contact trip) triggers. It's easy to swap out contact trip triggers with sequential triggers on any model. When I've contacted major manufacturers about sequential triggers for older tools that came with contact trip triggers, they've shipped me free sequential triggers.

Jeff B I have been a carpenter for 35 years and have seen this type of accident a few too many times. Guys get careless after using tools for extended periods of time. I personally don't like sequential triggers because just when you have everything lined up and ready to shoot.....nothing. Gotta start all over. Frustrating!!! However, it has been part of progress to relearn how to use tools as they are improved. I myself have never been seriously injured by a tool because my dad taught me to respect tools properly. A nail gun should be treated the same as a real gun-with respect. The same goes for any other power tool.

I don't believe that you should be able to sue a tool company for your own negligence. At the same time I think that tool companies should continue to look for ways to make their tools safer.

Terry Pullen Based on the position of the nail gun in relation to the guy's face and chest it doesn't look like he was thinking about safety when he pulled that trigger. So he probably wasn't thinking about kickback or contact trip fire and that is entirely his fault. Thankfully he was not more seriously injured.

To Tools of the Trade: January 10, 2014 My name is Jim Nolan.  I am a 52 year member of St. Louis Carpenters District Council.  Denny Patterson, Local 1310 St. Louis, and I, Local 97 were asked to do these surveys for Hester Lipscomb.

On March 19, 1999, feast of St. Joseph, the patron of workers was the start of the survey on the safety of workers in general.  Joseph was a carpenter, probably never used a nail gun.  I can only imagine when he was training Jesus to be a carpenter, if there were nail guns, he might have said, "Jesus, be careful of those nail guns, that nail comes out of the end of that before God even knows".

There are two new booklets, both free, and they are:Nail Gun Safety, A Guide for Construction Contractors; NIOSH website at In the executive summary there are six practical steps and the first one is Use full sequential trigger nail guns.
Straight Talk About Nail Gun Safety; NIOSH publication number 2013-149 comic book form that is very good

Better to read and not need, than to need and not read. None of the guys read anything although there are six warnings on the gun.

In year 2008 I asked 124 apprentices how many had read the six warnings on the nail gun.  Only one said he read them. In year 2011 I asked 685 apprentices how many had read the six warnings on the nail gun.  Only five said they had read them.

Started talking to carpenters in August of 1999.  Twenty four contractors (18 residential & 6 drywall) agreed to send to the union hall the names and telephone numbers of carpenters that were injured, OSHA recordable.  Denny & I would call them, talk about a half hour about their injury, how it happened, and quite a list of things.  I spoke to 365 and Denny about the same.  Fifty two were nail gun injuries that I talked to which was 14% of all injuries.

On May 24, 2000 I wanted to know more about nail guns.  I called Paslode Company in Vernon Hills, Illinois and they referred me to Product Services and speak to Harvey or Alex.  Harvey said they would send me brochures and tapes when they got their new ones made up.  He also said that on each box of nail guns it tells you that you can have a sequential trigger free of charge.  He also said that there would possibly be 85% fewer injuries with the use of sequential trip trigger. What I said was that if you know this why do you make the contact gun.  He said, "That’s what the people want" I said, "who are the people, the ones who are getting shot, our carpenters, or the ones who are buying the guns and putting them out on the subfloor?"

Denny and I have talked to hundreds of carpenter apprentices who were shot with the gun and agreed to talk to us a half hour each approximately.

Folks, we have had over 5000 apprentice carpenters in St. Louis District Council shot since Denny and I have been doing this survey.  I believe we can save 85% of the injuries using the sequential trigger opposed to contact.  I also think there should be many more journeymen on jobs to help show young apprentices tricks of the trade every day.  Being honest I never saw a blog until the other day. I like what these carpenters are saying.  You may as well say what you think because once they drop you down six feet, unless you have a good smart phone that's all she wrote. Jim Nolan

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