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Firework safety: Staying safe on fireworks night

Friday 5th November 2021


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

Safety and Health Practitioner have issued the following advice:

November is one of the busiest times of year for fireworks – 5 November is Bonfire night, with a a whole host of mass firework displays due to be be taking place over the next week, 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.’

This year, the OPSS has produced safety guidance on how to use fireworks responsibly, protecting people and keeping animals away from harm.

Only buy from licenced sellers
Make sure you buy fireworks from licenced in-store and online retailers. Do not buy fireworks from unknown retailers on social media sites. Remember it is illegal for under 18’s to buy fireworks.

Under the 2015 Regulations, an economic operator (i.e., retailer) must not sell category F1 fireworks to anyone under the age of 16. F2 and F3 category fireworks must not be sold to anyone under 18. The most powerful F4 category fireworks (display fireworks) must not be sold to members of the public; they can only be supplied to a person with specialist knowledge. These measures are specifically designed to promote consumer safety.

The Pyrotechnic Articles (Safety) Regulations 2015 as amended by the Product Safety and Metrology etc. (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019) deal with the safety of fireworks as a consumer product.

Economic operators (manufacturers, importers, and distributors) must not place, or make available, fireworks on the market in Great Britain unless they conform with certain requirements.

These requirements include meeting essential safety provisions, conformity attestation against the relevant tests, and correct application of the CE or new UKCA mark. Importantly, a manufacturer must keep the technical documentation and the declaration of conformity drawn up in respect of a firework for a period of 10 years (beginning on the day on which the firework is placed on the market).

“As a retailer or 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,” says HS&E Defence Lawyer Kamal Chauhan.

Let fireworks off on traditional celebration dates and adhere to the fireworks curfew People are more likely to plan to protect pets and other animals if fireworks are let off on traditional dates.

Did you know? Under the Firework Regulations 2004, it is an offence to let fireworks off during night hours (11pm to 7am), except during Bonfire Night celebrations (15 Oct-10 Nov), Diwali and the proceeding 3 days, New Year’s celebrations (26-31 Dec), and Chinese New Year and the proceeding 3 days.

Follow the instructions Before letting off fireworks, read all the safety instructions on the box, so you know important things like how far away people need to stand. If you do not understand the instructions and warnings, do not use the firework. Once any debris has cooled down, tidy it up and soak it in water overnight. Then put it in a rubbish bag and in the bin.

Understand what fireworks you can use at home
There are various categories of fireworks. Category F1 fireworks present a very low hazard and are intended for use in confined areas, including inside domestic buildings. Categories F2 and F3 fireworks are on general sale to the public but only category F2 fireworks are intended for outdoor use in confined areas (such as a small garden).

Check you have enough space to safely use a firework before you buy it. Category information can be found on the label.

Individuals should however bear in mind that, 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.

Always follow the Firework Code.

Be considerate to animals when letting off fireworks If you plan to let off any fireworks, let your neighbours know in advance so they can plan for pets that might be affected.

If you live close to horses, let their owners know well in advance that you are letting fireworks off. Site your fireworks well away from them and aim them in the opposite direction. It is important to be considerate to horse owners as they cannot easily move horses away from fireworks.

Notify nearby farms and stables if you are planning to use fireworks. Do not let off fireworks if they will disturb wildlife habitats, or roosting bats and birds.

‘Look Up! Look Out!’    

UK Power Networks has urged people to ‘Look Up! Look Out!’ for potential hazards to stay safe during bonfire night celebrations. The electricity company advises keeping fireworks and bonfires away from power lines and substations.

People are encouraged to include a daylight recce when planning displays, to keep clear of equipment which keeps electricity supplies flowing. The team’s safety advisers also warn against using sky lanterns which can get caught in overhead lines or potentially cause fires. Heat and smoke from a bonfire can damage overhead lines and high voltage electricity can jump gaps, finding the easiest path to the ground.

Ros Forbes, Public Safety Advisor at UK Power Networks, said: “Large public firework displays are taking place again this year, where risks are identified in advanced. We encourage those marking the occasion at home to consider the same risks as larger displays to keep everyone safe.

“With the excitement of being able to host an event this year, people may forget about checking their surroundings. Overhead wires are hard to see in the dark, so plan ahead during the day if you are hosting bonfire parties and consider the weather conditions. If it is windy this can fan flames quite a distance so make sure you build bonfires a good distance away from overhead wires and high voltage substations.”

In the event of an emergency involving the electricity network keep well away and ring 105.

Firework safety tips for display organisers
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.”

“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 to 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.”

Advice for organisers:

Handle fireworks with great care at all stages
Ensure people have sufficient experience and have as few people as possible involved
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
Keep fireworks in a secure box which is kept closed
Read the instructions on it carefully (by torchlight)
Wind and display should always be angled away from spectators
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
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 cancelling the display, however disappointing that may be.
The work doesn’t finish when the last firework goes off. Make sure 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.

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