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November 5, 2018

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Firework safety

Firework safety: Staying safe on fireworks night

We are warned every year of the dangers of fireworks and how much damage they can do if they aren’t properly controlled. Here are some tips on some tips on firework safety and how to ensure a safe event.

fireworksNovember is one of the busiest times of year for fireworks – Monday (5 November) is Bonfire night, and the Hindu festival Diwali, also known as the festival of lights, takes place on Wednesday (7 November).

A whole host of mass firework displays will be taking place both this weekend and next weekend, as well as smaller private displays from residential properties.

According to FireService, more children than adults get hurt by fireworks. Over the past few years over 350 pre-school children, some only a year old, were treated in hospital for fireworks injuries.

The Fireworks Forum states that more 1,300 people each year are injured by fireworks with over 900 of them needing to go to hospital. Sparklers causes more injuries than air-bombs, bangers, rockets and Roman candles combined and up to three sparklers burning together can generate the same heat as a blowtorch.

Mark Breen, crowd safety expert and Director at Safe Events, had this advice for SHP: “Fireworks are explosives and should be treated as such. For instance, some ‘sparklers’ get hotter than cooking oil. Would you let your child stick their hand in cooking oil?

“Fireworks displays should generally have a minimum exclusion zone of 30m radius around the launch site.”

Paul Verrico, a Health and Safety Partner at law firm Eversheds Sutherland said: ‘The key to the successful management of fireworks is appropriate risk assessment and emergency preparedness. Those organising official displays will need to factor in matters as disparate as weather, wind direction, fuel for the bonfire and crowd safety.’

‘The same principles apply to families holding local celebrations. Whilst the risk assessment will likely be a lot less formal and seldom reduced to paper those in charge will need to think about the dynamic of small children, teenagers and those who may have had an alcoholic drink or two in establishing a safe perimeter for participants to stay safe. A basic fire risk assessment considering emergency procedures and escape routes also needs to be in place and communicated before the fire is lit. Health and safety isn’t just about company liability, it’s about keeping everyone safe to enjoy the fun of the season without anyone coming to harm.’

HS&E defence lawyer Kamal Chauhan added that: “as a retailer of seller you can be fined up to £5,000 and imprisoned for up to six months for selling or using fireworks illegally. You could also get an on-the-spot fine of £90.”

The safest way to enjoy fireworks, according to RoSPA, is at an organised display, with far fewer people being injured at larger events than at smaller family or private parties.

Chris Hannam from Stagesafe had the following advice for those running large events: “The following must form the basis of the risk assessment for a firework or pyrotechnic display; The nature of the site, the experience of the operators, particularly adverse features, such as the possibility of an adverse wind blowing smoke or debris towards a road or the audience, the fireworks chosen for the particular event and site and the rigging and firing methods used.

“Adequate safety zones must be provided between to public and the firing zone, adequate fall out zones are also required, if the wind changes direction this will affect the fall out area so it may be necessary to move the audience or firing area at short notice. This is essential, it must be well planned to move an audience if the wind changes and display operators must be well aware of and prepared for this.

“One effect that is usually shunned by professional display operators is the rocket (with sticks) as this high level effect will always turn into the wind (go up wind) while other effects will fallout downwind. This is undesirable as other effects will fall out downwind into a planned fall out area but rockets will swing towards the audience who should be up wind.”

Did you know? It is an offence to let fireworks off during night hours (11pm to 7am), except on Bonfire Night (midnight), Diwali, New Year’s Eve, and Chinese New Year (1am).

Ten firework safety tips for letting off fireworks

“For large-scale events, only competent, experienced and insured professionals should provide and launch a fireworks display. They should develop a custom plan for the event itself, establishing fall-out areas, factoring in wind and weather forecast and establishing a safe exclusion zone,” said Mark Breen.

“It’s also important have proper fire-safety provision in place as winds can shift and weather can change and this can mean that debris lands where it wasn’t planned to land. Fireworks debris / fall-out can cause significant burns so fire and medical resources should be appropriate.”

  • Handle fireworks with great care at all stages;
  • Ensure people have sufficient experience and have as few people as possible actually involved with the fireworks;
  • Do not allow smoking when fireworks are being handled, or at any time during the display
  • Unpack fireworks with great care and well away from any open fire, naked flame or flammable material. Remember, fireworks are fragile and can easily be broken. Keep fireworks in a secure box which is kept closed;
  • Before lighting any firework read the instructions on it carefully (by torchlight);
  • Make sure that the wind and the display are angled away from spectators;
  • For lighting display type fireworks, a device called a Portfire is often provided by the manufacturer. Use portfires when available and always light fireworks at arm’s length. Keep unused Portfires in a metal or wooden box and never carry them in pockets;
  • Alternative forms of safety lighter, such as a slow match, are often available;
  • If any firework fails to go off, don’t go back to it. It could still be live. Half an hour is the absolute minimum time to wait before you consider approaching it again;
  • Pay attention to the weather. A sudden change of wind could cause fireworks to fall dangerously among spectators. In very windy weather, you should consider putting off the display altogether, however disappointing that may be;

The work doesn’t finish when the last firework goes off. Make spectators are cleared safely from the site and the bonfire is completely put out. All spent fireworks must also be cleared, to ensure the site is safe to use again for people and animals.

Gathering spent fireworks 

With a torch, use tongs, or some other suitable tool and wear strong gloves. Burning the spent cases is potentially dangerous and should be done with great care only after all your spectators have gone. If any fireworks look as if they haven’t gone off, it should be left for at least half an hour after the display and then doused in a bucket of water, before asking the Fire Brigade for advice. Aerial shells should be doused in a bucket of water and then buried deep in the ground.

Firework safety poster

This infographic, made for SHP online, highlights the fireworks code and tips on how to stay safe.

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Sam Cooper
Sam Cooper

Generally good advice, however since July 2017 it has been illegal for any retailer or wholesaler to sell fireworks marked BS7114. BS7114 was withdrawn in 2010 (with a seven year transitional period) and replaced with the Pyrotechnic Articles (Safety) Regulations (2010, since amended 2015). All fireworks and other pyrotechnic articles should now be CE marked rather than to BS7114. Only category F1, F2 and F3 fireworks should be supplied for dale to the general public (or more accurately, persons without specialist knowledge) – and even then some articles listed as F2 or F3 are illegal for sale in the UK,… Read more »