Carpenter Pierces Own Heart With Nail Gun

Photo: Donna Bergeson

GREEN BAY, WI – A carpenter narrowly escaped death when he accidentally shot a nail in his heart while working on a fireplace near Peshtigo.

The victim, Doug Bergeson, who is back at work, recounted the accident: “I was just bringing the nail gun forward and I was on my tip-toes and I just didn’t quite have enough room, and it fired before I was really ready for it, and then it dropped down and it fired again.”

The 3 ½-inch framing nail entered his heart at the speed of a .22 bullet. Bergeson said he didn’t feel any real pain initially and drove himself to the hospital. He was immediately transferred to a major trauma hospital in Minneapolis.

Bergeson underwent open heart surgery to remove the nail. A surgeon said: “A wrong heart beat, a wrong position and he would have had a much more complicated problem than he was bargaining for.”

According to OSHA’s Guide to  Nail Gun Safety, nail guns cause tens of thousands of painful injuries each year. Nail gun injuries are common; one study found that 2 out of 5 residential carpenter apprentices experienced a nail gun injury over a four-year period. When they do occur, these injuries are often not reported or given any medical treatment.

Research has identified the risk factors that make nail gun injuries more likely to occur. The type of trigger system and the extent of training are important factors. The risk of a nail gun injury is twice as high when using a multi-shot contact trigger as when using a single-shot sequential trigger nailer.

Workers can talk to their employer about nail gun safety and prevention. Employers can take several steps to prevent nail gun injuries.

  • Use full sequential trigger nail guns
  • Provide training
  • Establish nail gun work procedures
  • Provide personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Encourage reporting and discussion of injuries and close calls

Employers and workers should also seek medical attention immediately after nail gun injuries, even for hand injuries that appear to be minimal. Provide first aid and medical treatment immediately.

To learn more, refer to NIOSH’s Nail Gun Safety: A Guide for Construction Contractors.