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Safe use of nail guns in residential construction

Nail guns are used every day on many construction jobs, especially in residential construction.


The most common nail guns used are pneumatic, but nail guns can also use gas (explosive) or electricity. Nail guns may boost productivity, but they also cause a number of serious injuries each year from unintended nail discharge.

The following information should be read in conjunction with our Safeguard: Nail guns and information sheet: Apprentice supervision in construction.

Know the risk

Nail gun injuries can happen due to unintentional discharges while carrying, moving, setting down or repositioning. Injury can also happen when using the gun in a restricted area or when rapidly fired nails strike other nails or timber knots causing them to ricochet.  Nail gun injuries are common among young apprentice carpenters. ReturnToWorkSA data shows young apprentice carpenters represent 59% of all nail gun injuries over a five year period (2013 to 2017). The risk of a nail gun injury is higher when using a contact trigger (bump fire or multishot) compared to using a full sequential trigger (single-shot). Most injuries occur when the nail gun is set to ‘bump fire’ mode, resulting in penetrating wounds to the operator or nearby workers.

While contact triggers may offer a slightly quicker response, workers and others in the vicinity are more likely to be injured when using this type of trigger.  The type of nail gun trigger system and the extent of training are important factors in reducing injuries.

Trigger type

Trigger type is less important to overall productivity than who is using the tool. Therefore, productivity concerns should focus on the skill of the user rather than on the trigger. A 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. Builders, contractors and Group Training Organisations (GTO) need to consider restricting apprentices to using full sequential trigger nail guns when starting out and until deemed competent.

Controlling the risk

There are a number of ways to reduce the risk of injuries, by ensuring:

  • workers are trained and instructed in their safe use, including what to do if the nail gun malfunctions
  • workers are familiar and competent in the type of nail gun they are using
  • the use of sequential triggers
  • apprentices only use nail guns under strict supervision
  • nail guns are maintained according to manufacturer’s specifications
  • appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) is worn by workers (eg eye and hearing protection)
  • timber surfaces are inspected for cracks or knots prior to their use
  • the areas where nail guns are used are isolated from other workers and clearly defined with physical barriers and signage
  • nail guns are not held above the line of the workers shoulders
  • workers take regular breaks to address the ergonomic risks associated with their long-term and repetitive use
  • when working at height, operators work from a platform (nail guns are primarily designed to be used with two hands and recoil when fired). 

Workers’ duties

Workers must take all practicable steps to keep themselves safe in the workplace and ensure they do not place others at risk of harm. This includes both the actions they take and the actions they don’t take (eg not wearing safety gear). Workers have a responsibility to:

  • identify and report hazards as they arise
  • follow the safe work procedures and instructions that are in place
  • wear any required PPE
  • report any accidents or near misses immediately to their supervisor or appropriate person.