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02 Dec 2013

Nail guns are becoming an increasing threat to workplace safety, with more than 80 workers a year being shot in their hands, feet, head and abdomen while working with the devices in Queensland alone.

At team of researchers from Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital examined figures compiled by the Queensland Employee Injury Database and found that, on average, 81 workers a year suffered nail gun injuries between 2007 and 2012, resulting in significant time off work and substantial productivity losses.

Nail guns have become ubiquitous in the building and construction industry because they increase productivity and are easy to use.

But the researchers, Dr James Ling, Dr Natalie Ong, and Dr John North, reported in Emergency Medicine Australasia, the journal of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, that rise in their use had been accompanied by an increase in the injuries they caused.

The researchers tracked 87 cases that occurred between January 2007 and mid-2012, and found that 58 per cent resulted in surgery, 32 per cent were treated solely in hospital emergency departments, and 10 per cent were transferred to a private facility.

They found that young men were at greatest risk of sustaining a nail gun injury, most commonly to their non-dominant hand.

The vast majority of injuries were to upper and lower limbs, but the researchers identified a number of cases where nails had been fired into skulls, chests, and abdomens.

Not only is the number of nail gun injuries at workplaces increasing, the team said that home handymen and other consumers are also at risk, citing a study conducted between 1991 to 2005 which found a three-fold increase in nail gun injuries among those working around the home – an increase that coincided with the introduction of nail guns onto the general market.

The researchers found that nail gun injuries cause, on average, a loss of 15 work days.

Nail gun injuries usually involve direct damage to soft tissues, tendons and bones, and can result in infections and septic arthritis, particularly because they usually occur in contaminated environments.

The researchers warned that the nails often contained metal barbs, or were coated with polymer or plastic, which can become embedded in a nail gun wound and develop into a site of infection if not carefully removed.

They added that soft tissue damage can also occur from the kinetic energy released from the nail being discharged into the body.

The researchers found that, at the time of operation, 14 per cent of the cases they examined involved tendon, joint or neurovascular damage, and in 20 per cent of cases there was retained foreign material that had to be removed.

Overall, they found that surgery for such injuries was generally short and safe, involving removal of embedded material, repair of structural damage and sterile washout.

Sanja Novakovic

Image by Alikai on Flickr, used under Creative Commons licence

Published: 02 Dec 2013