Worker’s Death by ‘Nail Gun’ Investigated

Times Staff Writer

The state Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Friday that it is still investigating a bizarre “nail gun” accident at a Costa Mesa construction site Wednesday that left a worker dead.

Salbador Aguayo Bernal, 30, of San Fernando was mortally wounded by a nail that severed his main artery. The accident took place at the construction site of an apartment building at 1421 Village Way, police said.

Bernal was walking behind a concrete block wall about 1:30 p.m. when the accident occurred, Lt. John Moquin said.

Fire Nails Like Gun


Workers on the other side of the wall were using power tools that fire nails much like a .22-caliber gun fires bullets, police and a Cal OSHA spokesman said. The workers were driving four-inch nails first through wooden boards and then into the concrete with the guns, which have safety buttons that require heavy resistance in order to trigger the high-powered release.

Moquin and William Loupe, acting director of Orange County’s Cal OSHA office, said one of the workers apparently fired a nail into wood where there was no concrete backing.

Without concrete behind the wood, Loupe said, the nail would have gone through the board “like butter.” It struck Bernal in the right shoulder. Police said the nail passed through Bernal’s right and left lungs and severed his aorta. Bernal was declared dead about an hour later at a nearby hospital, official said.

‘Talk About Bizarre’


“You talk about bizarre,” Loupe said Friday. “He just happened to be walking by the wall at this time, the gun just happens to hit the board and no concrete at this time. . . . You have people injured sometimes if the concrete (shatters) and they aren’t wearing face masks like we require them to, so we have some eye injuries or hand injuries,” Loupe said. “But this is the first (accident) I can recall that was fatal.”

Loupe said investigators are still gathering information from the scene of the accident and are trying to determine such things as whether the worker operating the nail gun was trained and certified by the device’s manufacturer, which is required by a Cal OSHA regulation.

“Sometimes,” he said, “the guns malfunction, or they aren’t being used properly, or sometimes they’ll tape back the safety button (that is triggered only by resistance) so that they can fire it like a stapler. We just don’t know all that yet.”

The guns, made by several companies, “are commonly used tools,” Loupe said. “This is just the freakiest thing I’ve ever heard of.”