Nail Gun Risks Suppressed

In 2002, engineers from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) privately warned <"">nail gun makers that the nail gun industry’s efforts to reduce the rising number of injuries with its tools wouldn’t really work; this, according to recently disclosed federal documents.

For some reason, the CPSC engineers’ views, warnings, and requests for additional study of nail guns safety features, were not addressed or disclosed publicly to US consumers.  Meanwhile, thousands of workers and home consumers continued to buy or rent nail guns at giant hardware stores nationwide during the country’s most recent housing boom.  Because of this, those sent to hospitals—both workers and home consumers—with hand, foot, knee, and head injuries that were caused by air-powered nail guns climbed to 42,000 in 2005, up significantly from 12,982 in 2000, according to federal hospital injury data.

CPSC engineer Caroleene Paul, wrote the 14-page report and forwarded it to the agency’s Office of Hazard Identification and Reduction.  Requests for such documents made by The Sacramento Bee went unanswered; however, the publication obtained a copy of the report from the CPSC under the Freedom of Information Act, but only received it after threatening legal action.  Based on nail gun tests and interviews with victims, the report was among 250 pages of internal CPSC documents about nail gun injuries and trends from 2002 to 2007.  Other documents included details of a nail gun death in 2006, four years after Paul’s report.

In that case, laborer Juan Delgado, then 41, shot himself in the head two hours after buying a Duo-Fast nail gun at a Houston Home Depot.  He died at a Houston hospital five days later, pre-deceasing a wife, three children, a sister, and a brother.

Hester Lipscomb, a Duke University researcher who has studied nail gun injuries for a decade said she was disturbed by the CPSC’s “inertia” after the 2002 report.  Lipscomb added that the CPSC engineers and the nail gun industry group were aware that tools equipped with automatic “contact-trip” firing systems were hurting and killing people.  “It would be interesting to know how many injuries and deaths, among both workers and consumers, could have been prevented,” Lipscomb said.

When the CPSC first expressed concern about the increasing number of nail gun injuries in 1998, the Illinois-based International Staple, Nail, and Tool Association, or ISANTA, produced a nail gun safety video to appease the government agency, which can be downloaded from the groups’ Website.  ISANTA revised its voluntary nail gun standard to suggest—it has not yet mandated—a safer firing system for larger nail guns.  Worse, nail gun makers could meet the standard while still shipping their products with a kit in the box that allowed users to convert their nail guns back to the more dangerous firing system.

After studying ISANTA’s efforts, testing nine nail guns, and interviewing the injury victims, the CPSC’s engineering team said those efforts fell short of what was truly needed to lower the number of injuries.

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