Western Australia recently prosecuted a company over an incident where a worker was blinded in one eye by a nail that ricocheted from a nail gun. According to a WorkSafeWA media release:
“The injured contractor was using a nail gun to attach steel holding straps to roof timbers. The nail gun had been purchased 12 months earlier, and came with an operating manual that provided safety instructions.
One of the safety instructions was that the nail gun was “for use with timber to timber fixing or materials of similar or lesser density”, but Mr Vlasschaert and the contractor had been using the nail gun to attach steel straps for 12 months without incident.
On the day of the incident, the contractor had experienced several ricochets where the nail had failed to go through the steel straps and instead flew into the air. Mr Vlasschaert asked him if everything was alright, and contractor said it was, so he had been left to carry on the work.
Soon after this conversation, the contractor was struck in the eye by a nail that had ricocheted, resulting in the permanent loss of sight in his left eye.”
The worker mistook his sunglasses as safety glasses. Protective eyewear was available in the employer’s car at the domestic building site.
This prosecution, which resulted in a $A25,000 fine, highlights several relevant OHS issues.
The hazards associated with nail guns are well-known throughout the construction industry. In the case above shows that the nail gun was the wrong tool for the job, the worker was using the nail gun contrary to the manufacturers’ guidelines and the employer was aware of the ricochets.
There is a large amount of safety information about nail guns, most recently US NIOSH published a guide to this tool. The West Australian and Victorian WorkSafes both have guidance, and WorkSafe Victoria included a nail gun incident in one of its TV ads.
Australia has also seen incidents that have resulted from the misuse of nail guns. It is accepted that the nail guns are a major productivity tool and, it could be argued, is safer than the traditional hammer but the design of nail guns does not seem to have improved very much over recent years and, perhaps, it is time to review the safe design of these tools.
The Vlasschaert prosecution illustrates a perennial problem on work sites – safety glasses. Recently I was in a discussion with colleagues about how one can determine, simply by looking at a worker, whether the glasses being worn are impact resistant safety glasses. One colleague said that the glasses will have safety written on them. Another said that the glasses will be labelled with the relevant Australian Standards number. Several models I have immediate access to, including my own outdated looking pair of prescription safety glasses, have AS/NZS 1337.6 embossed in the arms of the frames.
Some construction companies on large projects in Australia have begun installing their own safety equipment vending machines. When equipment, such as dust masks, gloves or safety eye wear is required, these items are purchased from the machine with the cost being allocated to their contractor or supervisor. Other companies’ safety officers sometimes walk the site with a safety kit from which glasses, gloves or masks are handed out at no charge, particularly on time-critical projects.
The need to identify suitable safety glasses needs to be communicated regularly to all workers, and when undertaking safety inspections, it will be necessary to ask workers to remove their glasses in order to verify the safety integrity of the PPE. It may also be useful to follow what some older and experienced workers do, double protection of safety eye wear and a face shield