The New ANSI Nail Gun Standard is a Lost Opportunity for Safety

Posted on by John Howard, MD; Christine M. Branche, PhD, FACE; and Scott Earnest, PhD, PE, CSP
contact tip
Workpiece safety contact located at the tip of the nail gun.

Pneumatic nail guns have (PNGs) caused injury and death to both workers and consumers. These easy-to-use tools are designed to quickly drive nails into work surfaces. Commercially available first in the 1960s, PNGs are now the most popular type of nail gun in use. These tools are able to drive any size nail into wood or other materials, from a small finishing nail to a 3.5 inch long nail, in a fraction of a second [Lipscomb et al., 2003].

Although useful to workers in residential construction and to consumers at home, nail guns are responsible for a significant number of serious injuries to both users and bystanders [CPSC, 2002]. Our recently published commentary describes the magnitude of the nail gun injury problem; how to prevent those injuries through trigger design; and problems with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) procedures for developing voluntary consensus standards that resulted in a deficient standard.

Unintended nail discharge is a common cause of injury and, in one study, two-thirds of workers compensation claims for nail gun injuries involved unintended discharge or misfire [Dement et al., 2003]. Workers without training are at greatest risk of injury from PNGs [Lipscomb et al. 2006] and consumers are at similar risk [Lipscomb and Schoenfisch, 2015].  From 2006 to 2011, approximately 14,000 worker and 11,000 consumer nail gun injuries per year required emergency medical treatment [Lipscomb and Schoenfisch, 2015]. Most nail gun injuries are puncture wounds to the hands and fingers, but nail guns also cause bone fractures, internal injuries, and even death.

Strip of nails used in a pneumatic nail gun for construction work.

A sequential activation trigger (“sequential trigger”) was developed over 40 years ago to reduce injury risk from nail guns [Burke et al., 1972]. A sequential trigger requires the following steps in order: (1) the nail gun is pressed against the surface that will receive the nail; and (2) the user activates the trigger to discharge the nail. This sequence must be repeated after each discharge, and this sequence is the key design feature in preventing injury and misfire. For the contact activation trigger (“contact trigger”), however, no specific sequence is required. Rather, the nail gun will fire a nail when pressed against the surface that will receive it and the trigger is activated. With a contact trigger, nails can be discharged as long as the trigger remains activated which allows rapid “bump firing.” This design increases the risk of double firing and accidental discharge. The overall risk of injury is more than twice as high using PNGs with contact triggers than using PNGs with sequential triggers [Lipscomb et al., 2003].

Our commentary describes the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) process used to develop a nail gun consensus standard and the need for that process to be reformed. In 2015, ANSI approved a revision to its 2002 nail gun standard (“American National Standard for Power Tools – Safety Requirements for Portable, Compressed-Air-Actuated, and Fastener Driving Tools (ANSI SNT-101 2015)”). As with the 2002 standard, the 2015 standard failed to require sequential triggers for all construction operations despite strong evidence of their injury prevention value. A trade association developed both the 2002 and 2015 standards using an informal canvass method instead of the formal committee method which allows for more face-to-face interaction among members where dialogue among members plays an important role in crafting the standard. In the canvass method, the standards developer commonly writes the initial draft of the standard and then uses a letter ballot to determine if consensus exists among members. The canvass method reduces travel costs for members, but thorough discussion of issues is lacking.

Membership on the pneumatic nail gun standards development consensus body was composed of 44 members, of which only one represented labor, and there were no consumer representatives. Because the labor voice on the standards development consensus body was weak, and the consumer voice was non-existent, this led ultimately to a safety standard of little value in protecting worker and consumer users.

These procedural and substantive deficiencies associated with ANSI 2015 nail gun standard detract from its utility for government standard-setting purposes [OMB, 2015]; detract from its value as a respected voluntary, consensus-based safety standard; and detract from its potential use as the basis for a mandatory national safety standard. Developing effective safety and health standards is a unique and challenging task—much more challenging than developing a technical product specification standard. It is a task that should always be conducted in a way that values the importance of advancing safety for workers based on sound scientific evidence. The unfortunate experience of the ANSI 2015 nail gun standard should serve as an important case study of how ANSI can improve, and adhere to, its Essential Requirements and related procedures for developing and approving safety standards, and not just as a lost opportunity for safety.

NIOSH is the sole U.S. government institute dedicated to conduct research on occupational safety and health and has a history of conducting and funding nail gun safety research. We invite readers’ comments on their experience with nail gun safety.  If you are interested in more information on nail gun safety please visit our nail gun topic page.  Finally, NIOSH is happy to provide consultation on nail gun safety. If you are interested in talking with someone about this further, please contact Scott Earnest, Ph.D., P.E., C.S.P. by e-mail at


John Howard, MD, Director, NIOSH

Christine M. Branche, PhD, FACE,  Principal Associate Director and Director, NIOSH Office of Construction Safety and Health

Scott Earnest, PhD, PE, CSP, Deputy Director for the Office of Construction Safety and Health, Coordinator for the Construction Sector





Burke GE, Lemon WG, Shippee DM. Portable Pneumatic Fastener Driving Device with Improved Actuating Mechanism. Filed May 5, 1972. CNY Patent No. 3,784,077. Jan 8 1964.

Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Memo to J Elder, Office of Hazard Identification and Reduction from Carolene Paul, Division of Mechanical Engineering. Subject: Evaluation of pneumatic nailers. May 23, 2002. Available from  Accessed May 20, 2016.

Dement JM, Lipscomb H, Li L, Epling C, Desai T. 2003. Nail gun injures among construction workers. Applied Occupational and Environmental Hygiene 18(5):374-383.

Lipscomb, HJ, Dement, JM, Nolan, J, Patterson, D., Li L. 2003. Nail gun injuries in residential carpentry: Lessons from active injury surveillance. Inj Prev 9(1): 20-24.

Lipscomb HJ, Dement JM, Nolan J, Patterson, D. 2006. Nail gun injuries in apprentice carpenters: Risk factors and control measures. Am J Ind Med 49(7):505-513.

Lipscomb HJ, Jackson L. Nail-gun injuries treated in emergency departments: U.S. 2001-2005. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 56(14); April 13, 2007.

Lipscomb HJ, Nolan J, Patterson D, Dement JM. 2008. Prevention of traumatic nail gun injuries in apprentice carpenters: Use of population-based measures to monitor intervention effectiveness. Am J Ind Med 51(10):719-727.

Lipscomb, HJ, Nolan J, Patterson D, Dement JM. 2010. Surveillance of nail gun injuries by journeyman carpenters provides important insights into experiences of apprentices. New Solut 20(1):95-114.

Lipscomb HJ, Schoenfisch AL. 2015. Nail gun injuries treated in U.S. emergency departments, 2006—2011: Not just a worker safety issue. Am J Ind Med 58(8):880-885.

Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Circular A-119, Revised. November 7, 2014. Available from  Accessed June 5, 2016.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (NIOSH) and Department of Labor (OSHA). 2011. Nail Gun Safety: A Guide for Construction Contractors. DHHS (NIOSH) Publication Number 2011-202; OSHA Publication Number 3459-8-11. Available from Accessed June 7, 2016.

Posted on by John Howard, MD; Christine M. Branche, PhD, FACE; and Scott Earnest, PhD, PE, CSP

4 comments on “The New ANSI Nail Gun Standard is a Lost Opportunity for Safety”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    I believe that pneumatic nail guns are intrinsically dangerous by their very nature. However, a properly trained individual that understands the danger is better than an across the board type of trigger that would substantially increase the labor burden on construction projects. We train our production teams on the proper type of gun & trigger for each task. The only nail gun injuries I have seen in my 36 years in construction were related to lack of training and not following established safe operating procedures. I believe it is extremely important to train and supervise employees adequately, and never rely on a guard or safety. I have seen more complacency because of perceptions that once designed for safety, injuries will not occur.
    I would like to add, that I appreciate all the work that NIOSH does and the excellent training material provided!

    Thank you for your feedback. We appreciate your thoughtful input. We agree that training is an important aspect of preventing nail gun injuries. However, research shows that the risk of injury from nail guns having contact triggers is twice as high as nail guns that have sequential triggers. That is why both NIOSH and OSHA recommend use of sequential triggers in the 2011 Nail Gun Safety: A Guide for Construction Contractors, which continues to be a timely document with relevant recommendations.

    Safety is most important when using a nail gun. You covered everything about safety for using a nailer.

    I am lucky to find your website from google.

    Thank for the helpful article.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments posted become a part of the public domain, and users are responsible for their comments. This is a moderated site and your comments will be reviewed before they are posted. Read more about our comment policy »

Page last reviewed: November 15, 2016
Page last updated: November 15, 2016