OSH Answers Fact Sheets

Easy-to-read, question-and-answer fact sheets covering a wide range of workplace health and safety topics, from hazards to diseases to ergonomics to workplace promotion. MORE ABOUT >

Download the free OSH Answers app
Download on the App Store Get it on Google Play

Search all fact sheets:

Type a word, a phrase, or ask a question

Powered Hand Tools - Powder-Actuated Tools

What general safety principles should you follow when using powder-actuated tools?

  • Allow only trained, competent and authorized persons who are familiar with the regulations governing the use of the tool to operate powder-actuated tools (also known as explosive actuated fastening tools).
  • Powder-actuated tools operate like loaded guns. Handle powder-actuated tools with the same respect and safety precautions as guns.
  • Use the manufacturer's information as a guide for safe operation and maintenance of the tool.
  • Wear safety glasses or goggles, or a face shield (with safety glasses or goggles) and a hard hat.
  • Wear hearing protection.
  • Brace yourself at all times when working on ladders or scaffolds to maintain good balance.
  • Keep tools pointed in a safe direction. Never point powder-actuated tools at anyone.
  • Load powder-actuated tools just before use. Do not carry loaded tools from job to job.
  • Do not leave loaded powder-actuated tools unattended.
  • Do not allow bystanders near the work. Shields for protecting workers against a possible ricochet may be necessary in the working area.

How should you care and service a powder-actuated tool?

  • Clean and maintain tools according to the manufacturers' instructions.
  • Check tools before use to ensure that they are in good working order.
  • Tag defective tools "Out of service" and remove from service until properly repaired.
  • Store tools and cartridges in a locked container when they are not in use. Ensure that the tool is unloaded before storing it.

How should you use a powder-actuated tool safely?

  • Use the tool at right angles to the work surface.
  • Check the chamber to see that the barrel is clean and free from any obstruction, before using the tool.
  • Do not use the tool where flammable or explosive vapours, dust or similar substances are present.
  • Do not place your hand over the front (muzzle) end of a loaded tool.

How should you use the projectiles (fasteners, nails, studs, etc.) safely?

  • Use only the projectiles (fasteners, nails, studs, etc.) recommended by the tool manufacturer.
  • Ensure that the base material has no holes or openings and is of sufficient consistency to prevent a projectile from passing right through.
  • Do not load a tool until immediately before use.
  • Do not force a projectile into a working surface that is harder than the projectile being used. If the base material is unknown, use a hand hammer to drive the projectile, using it as a centre punch.

How should you use charge cartridges safely?

  • Use only cartridges recommended by the tool manufacturer.
  • Check that the colour of the cartridge is appropriate for work being done. Charge cartridges are colour-coded to show their strength.
  • Conduct a first trial by using the weakest or lowest strength charge cartridge.
  • Provide adequate ventilation in confined spaces where powder-actuated tools are used.
  • Hold the tool in the fixing position for no less than 5 to 15 seconds when a tool misfires. Keep the tool pointed in a direction that will not cause injury to you or others and unload a cartridge with extreme caution.
  • Use caution when using tools near live electrical circuits. Make sure that the nails (etc.) do not enter live circuits buried or hidden in the base material.
  • Keep cartridges in a lock up when not in use.
  • Do not attempt to force a cartridge into a tool.
  • Do not discard unfired cartridges carelessly.
  • Do not carry cartridges loose or in a pocket. Carry them in the manufacturer's package.

Document last updated on July 13, 2016

Add a badge to your website or intranet so your workers can quickly find answers to their health and safety questions.


Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, CCOHS does not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current. CCOHS is not liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the information.