Unsafe handling of nail-guns

Image: "Townhouse" by pearlblossom/Melissa Samworth on Flickr

A worker on a steep roof slipped and shot himself in the leg with a nail-gun. My friend Darcy Olsen told me about this incident, answering my ongoing request for stories about workplace danger.

It was a hot, humid day in Ottawa in 2005. Darcy and his crew of eight were putting shingles on a multi-phase townhouse re-roof project. Certified in Level 3 Occupational First Aid, Darcy was a skilled tradesman in charge of site safety and emergencies.

“I had gone over the safety issues of using toe-boards on the steep sections with everyone,” Darcy wrote, via Facebook message. “I was on a northern section of roof after setting everyone to their tasks. We had an exuberant young apprentice shingler working another section.”

Toe-boards are part of a roofer’s fall protection system. They are long boards – usually 2×6 or 2×8 – installed along the roof edge.

What happened?

“My lead hand came over and called me to the scene. Young Ben had decided that he didn’t need any toe-boards on his steep section and was working with only his fall-harness,” Darcy wrote. “But, due to the heat, which makes shingles very soft, he slipped in his harness.

“He was using an air-powered roofing coil nailer with 1.25-inch coil nails in it. He had been keeping his finger on the trigger as he moved about – a habit I had previously reprimanded him for. A softened shingle had torn loose under his body weight and, as he slipped, he shot himself just above the left knee with his air nailer – lodging it firmly into the bone.

Image of a nail stuck in a person's leg bone, from WorkSafeBC video: Safe Handling of Nail Guns

“By the time I got to where he was, he was in a semblance of shock, but members of the crew had managed to get him to the 4/12 section of roof. I immediately called 911 for a steep-roof rescue and the fire department came to aid. I stayed with him until the fire department showed up with a telescoping basket to remove him.

“He spent three days in the hospital, and the the time loss for him was only a few weeks. It could’ve been a lot worse if he had shot himself a few inches lower in the kneecap.

“It was a serious safety lesson for the entire crew,” Darcy wrote.

WorkSafeBC’s nail-gun safety series

Darcy’s story made me think of these (fairly gory!) videos on nail-guns and other potentially dangerous power tools: You’re a Pro: Power Tool Series


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