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Nail Gun Users Shot in the Foot

Nail guns are the second most dangerous piece of construction equipment (after ladders), sending about 37,000 people to the emergency room each year. Since 2009, the International Staple, Nail and Tool Association (ISANTA) has been working to revise the American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI) nail gun standard.

During the review process, NIOSH, along with Dr. Hester Lipscomb, who’s spent 10 years researching the dangers of nail guns, voted against the standard proposed by ISANTA. The standard eventually went before a three judge appeals panel. Ultimately, the panel voted 2-1 in favor of ISANTA. I was the one dissenting judge.

Although ANSI standards are voluntary and not enforceable unless adopted by OSHA, they help set a national safety bar and represent the consensus of the industry. Given how difficult it is for OSHA to update its own standards, ANSI standards, which are updated every 5-10 years, could have a significant impact on safety performance, at least among the better contractors.

Issues with ISANTA’s Canvass Body

Part of the problem with ISANTA’s nail gun standard is that it was developed under ANSI’s canvass method, which allows for a more closed process. Under the canvass method, the standard developer (often the industry or manufacturer) develops the draft standard themselves, and then circulates it to a canvass body they’ve assembled for comments. This differs from the committee method, which gathers representatives from several different interest groups (e.g., contractors, unions, safety experts) to develop the proposed standard together before circulating it for comment to the full committee and the general public.

ANSI requires the committee or canvass body be “balanced,” but those requirements are relatively vague. Members have to be divided between at least three groups (users, producers and general), and ANSI recommends the groups be subdivided into additional categories (e.g., consumers, labor, etc.).

ISANTA’s canvass body was dominated by nail gun manufacturers and contractors/contractors’ association representatives. Only one labor union and one government representative (NIOSH) were included, and there were no consumer representatives. NIOSH argued for more members from the safety community, but ISANTA claimed most of the canvass body was safety people (e.g., safety directors for companies or associations). Thus, ISANTA was able to meet the minimum ANSI requirements for a “balanced” canvass body, even though the representatives were largely only producers.

ISANTA’s Inadequate Responses to Comments

NIOSH and its research partners raised a number of significant issues with the standard. In several cases, ISANTA’s responses did not adequately address these concerns. Below are a few examples:

  • NIOSH and its partners wanted the standard to state that sequential triggers have a “safety advantage” over contact triggers. This request was based on 10 years of research showing they cause half as many injuries as contact triggers. Despite this evidence, ISANTA responded only that “one cannot generalize to a ‘safest’ tool or actuation system.”
  • NIOSH and its partners offered simpler, easier to understand definitions of the various trigger mechanisms to make it easier to distinguish between “contact” and “sequential” triggers. ISANTA responded that their definitions are understood by the industry and didn’t need to be changed.
  • ISANTA actively avoided the term “nail gun” in the standard, instead calling them “portable, compressed air-actuated fastener driving tools.” Even though most people refer to them as nail guns, ISANTA claimed the term “nail gun” was slang.
  • ISANTA labeled coil nailers as production tools, exempting them from a requirement to have sequential triggers offered as an option. NIOSH wanted the exemption removed since sequential triggers are safer and should be available to users who want them.

The appeals panel ruled that ISANTA’s responses were adequate overall, and noted that many of NIOSH’s concerns had to do with issues in ANSI’s Essential Requirements. The panel was only convened to rule on whether ANSI’s process had been followed – not judge the validity of any of the substantive issues raised by NIOSH.

The Future of the Nail Gun Standard

With the appeals panel ruling against NIOSH, there are several avenues remaining that could still bring improvements to the nail gun standard. First, they can appeal to the ANSI Board of Standards Review, which rules on whether standards are contrary to public interest, contain unfair provisions or are unsuitable for national use. The other route is to wait until the next revision of the standard (probably in 2024) and push for a more balanced canvass body.

NIOSH could also press ANSI to tighten their rules for standards developed under the canvass method so it functions with more balance and transparency like the committee method. With 37,000 emergency room visits a year from nail gun injuries, let’s hope something changes.

To read more about nail gun safety, visit Or check out OSHA’s Nail Gun Safety guide for contractors or NIOSH’s safety guide for workers – both are available in English and Spanish.

[Scott Schneider is the LHSFNA’s Director of Occupational Safety and Health.]

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