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Power tool accidents can befall pros and DIYers alike

June 26th, 2007 12:00 am by Kacie Dingus Breeding



After accidentally shooting a nail through his wrist with a nail gun, a WKM Construction Co. employee who was working on a project at the Kingsport Stanley Steemer office was transported to an area hospital for treatment.


Although it's not immediately known whether the injured man was a veteran or a newbie to the world of power tools, area hospital and urgent care physicians agree that it's the experts who are at the highest risk for injury from power tools.


From facial disfigurations to the amputation of extremities to potentially life-threatening chest and lung injuries, Dr. Camilo "Cam" Torres, an emergency room physician for Wellmont Holston Valley Medical Center, has seen his share of handymen, construction workers and DIYers in the ER.


"These accidents typically happen to the people who have worked with these machines for years. A lot of people say, ‘Oh, it won't happen to me. I've been doing this work for 20 years.' Well, that's exactly the person these accidents happen to, because they get careless," Torres said.


It's not just in the summer, either.


"It's pretty much year-round ... even around Christmastime," said Andy Hooper, director for emergency and trauma services at Holston Valley.


Although they expect more of these type accidents in the spring and summer, there are also "people who have gotten new equipment for Christmas, and they start using it but haven't really been trained to use it."


"Nail gun injuries are very common," said Torres, who's seen as many as four this month. "Once in awhile you do get people that are using them for the first time and they don't realize how powerful and how fast these machines are, but injuries are primarily in people who have been working with them who have become careless."


The trouble with nail guns, Torres says, is that, "These are pressure activated, meaning that once you put pressure down, it fires, and a lot of the time accidents occur because people are moving, they are not actively nailing something, but moving it from one place to another and it is loaded and it discharges on a leg, or in a hand, or in a wrist."


Another common injury Torres sees is caused by people who fall while carrying a loaded nail gun.


"We've seen them in the skull, in the face, in the lungs, everywhere," Torres said.


But nail gun injuries aren't the most common power tool injury, according to Torres.


"The most common injuries that we see are actually amputation of the tips of the fingers with circular saws. The typical patient is not somebody who is new using them, but someone who has been using them for many years and they get careless, and there go the fingers," Torres said.


Other common injuries stem from ladder falls, Torres says, because ladders more than 5 feet in height should be held in place by a second person.


First Assist Urgent Care in Piney Flats also sees its fair share of power tool and other handyman-type injuries, about five to 10 per month according to Dr. Edward "Ed" Crutchfield.


"Most of the things we see here are lacerations, cuts to the hands, usually saws, knives. ... Occasionally, if they're working with sheet metal, we'll see where they've cut it on metal," Crutchfield said.


"Eye injuries are very common. If working with a power tool, wear eye protection. PVC pipe, wood shavings, metal shavings - with power tools, you have to wear eye protection," Crutchfield said.


"I have seen a few nail gun injuries, through the hand, through the knee. It just depends on where they lay the nail gun down before it fires," he added. "Most of the time it's an accidental discharge - I've even seen experienced, professional people who've done that, like one guy who got shot (with a nail gun) in the knee once, it went right through his kneecap."


Some injuries are so severe, Crutchfield says, he sends the patients on to the ER.


"We do have people that walk through our door that should go to the ER," Crutchfield said. "The man who got shot in the kneecap was sent to the ER."


Torres, who says he believes the circular saw injuries he's seen are "by far the most devastating," says he tells his patients that before plugging in a circular saw, they should think, "I have to be careful because I could cut a finger off today."


Torres also reminds his injured patients to take all the necessary precautions when using power tools, including checking their workspace for obstacles and making sure they know what they're doing before beginning any project "because it only takes a fraction of a second" for an injury to occur.



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