Danger: Ladders, Saws and Nail Guns

 By Bob White, ROII Safety Services Director

It’s National Ladder Safety Month, but ladders aren’t the only risky tools out there. Nail guns, ladders and table saws are all important tools on a job site. Used safely, they are simply tools for completing tasks. Used incorrectly, they can become instruments of serious injury and death. Check out these tips to stay safe!

Nail guns

First, make sure that the gun is in sequential mode as opposed to bump- or contact-trip. This adds an extra step in the firing process because, in sequential mode, you must pull the trigger rather than merely depressing the muzzle. This can prevent a significant number of injuries.

Next, when holding two boards together before joining them with a nail, such as when fastening parallel 2x4s to frame a door header, keep your hands clear of any place a misfired nail could make an unexpected exit from the wood. Finally, always wear eye and ear protection.

Table saws

Avoid kickback by using a splitter, a narrow piece of metal that guides and steadies the wood after it passes through the saw blade. Or, substitute the splitter for a riving knife, which has teeth to grip the wood if it kicks back as it passes through the blade. Stand outside the saw's miter slots on each side of the blade. That way, any kickback will likely pass by you. Always wear eye and hearing protection.


To check if an extension ladder is resting at the proper angle against a roof, put your toes against the feet of the ladder and extend your arms straight out. You should be able to comfortably rest your hands on the rung in front of you. When you're on the ladder, keep a hand on a rung whenever possible. Maintain a steady center of gravity by keeping your belt buckle within the ladder's sides, and closer to the wall than the ladder's feet. A tool belt or apron will keep your hands free to climb. If you store your hammer on your hip, you can move the ladder without finding out the hard way that its claw was hanging from the top rung.

Chain saws

Get a pair of cut-resistant chain-saw chaps—and a hard hat, ear protection, face-visor combo, too. Invest in a good pair of boots and cut-resistant gloves. You don't want to be slipping and sliding with a chainsaw in your hands. This may sound like a lot of gear, but it'll cost far less than the average chain-saw-related hospital visit!

Circular saws

Clamp your workpiece so you can keep two hands on the tool. Set the blade depth so that the tips of the teeth just barely protrude past your workpiece's thickness. This applies to table saws as well. This will minimize the hazard of accidental blade contact with your sawhorse.

Use sawhorses. While the circular saw offers portable convenience, that doesn't mean it's safe to cut lumber braced against your knee. Reduce the chance of the blade binding in the kerf by cutting outside the sawhorse edges, never between the two horses' rails. Always wear safety glasses.

Want more safety information? ROII members receive monthly and weekly safety materials. If you’re an ROII member who is not receiving the monthly or weekly email and you would like to receive this service, please send your name, company name, and email address to bobw@biaw.com.


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