Fireworks Night: Enjoy yourself without becoming a casualty

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There are not many of us who do not enjoy a fabulous display of fireworks. Of course some may simply enjoy a few fireworks in the garden, perhaps with family and friends, even roasting the odd marshmallow or two on the bonfire. A few cannot abide the thought of such an event. 

Unfortunately, both large and small events can have devastating consequences despite the joyous occasion. Fireworks can misfire or even explode. Children may not realise that a spent sparkler is incredibly hot and many a child has suffered significant burns and traumatic memories as a result. I have known of some who never attend firework events ever again. I have acted for such people.

It is such a pity as fireworks night is one of those nights where we can all wrap up and enjoy the festivities. There is nothing like the warmth or smell of the bonfire and the fabulous illuminations of fireworks against the night sky, perhaps even with a little mulled wine in hand. Just a little. Too much alcohol and fireworks do not mix!

The daft thing is that it really is very simple, whether a large event or a home display. Take sensible precautions.

  • Plan the event and make sure that the site selected is appropriate and spectators are far enough away. The site should be clear from other easily combustible materials. Check the site in daylight and pay attention to such things as overhead power lines. Set the fireworks up when it is still daylight. Think about the weather conditions. Is it windy? Make allowances for this.
  • Make sure that fireworks are stored safely and cleared away after the event. Never put a spent firework on the bonfire.
  • Know how many people are attending and organise the event accordingly. Clearly an organised event will need specific spectator area(s), a clear area between the firing area and the spectator area, the firing area itself and the fall out area (or dropping zone) which is kept clear of spectators for the debris from spent fireworks to land. This basic principle applies to events at home too.
  • If you're having a bonfire, ensure that this is located appropriately. It is preferable not to light the bonfire before setting off the fireworks so as to avoid stray sparks from accidentally setting them off.

Large event organisers should contact the police, fire service and their local authority ahead of the event. It is also good practice also to warn neighbours and local institutions such as old peoples' homes. Even when organising an event at home, it is simply a general courtesy to advise neighbours that you are having a fireworks display. Don't forget both domestic and agricultural animals; most are terrified of fireworks. Be considerate.

Decide who is to be responsible for the event and ensure that they remain in control. Finally, ensure that you know who to call should something go wrong.

Now a little of the legal stuff:

You may or may not know, but there are four categories of fireworks:

  • Category 1 - Indoor Fireworks (e.g. party poppers)
  • Category 2 - Garden Fireworks (e.g. many of the fireworks which make up the small selection boxes on sale before 5 November)
  • Category 3 - Display Fireworks (the largest fireworks on retail sale)
  • Category 4 - Fireworks which are incomplete and/or are not intended for sale to the general public. BS7114 recommends that category 4 fireworks must not be sold to, or used by, a member of the general public.

Furthermore, fireworks can only be purchased by those over 18 and they must not be set off or thrown in the street or other public places. This includes sparklers. They must not be set off between 1pm and 7am with the exception of Bonfire Night (cut off is midnight) and New Year's Eve, Diwali and Chinese New Year (cut off is 1 a.m.)

There is a plethora of information available to assist in understanding legislative requirements and guidance in arranging a firework display. I list below some links:

Relevant Legislation

  • Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
  • The Manufacture and Storage of Explosives Regulations 2005
  • Classification and Labelling of Explosives Regulations 1983 as amended by The Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Use of Transportable Pressure Equipment Regulations 2004
  • The Firework (Safety) Regulations 1997 and The Firework (Safety) (Amendment) Regulations 2004
  • The Fire Regulations 2004

It must be said that most displays go ahead as intended and spectators return home having had a thoroughly enjoyable night. But just remember the 30 car pileup on the M5 which occurred on 4 November 2011 in which 7 people died and 51 were injured. The accident was thought to have been caused by a fireworks display at a Rugby Club some 200 yards from the motorway. The Rugby Club has been exonerated from any liability but nonetheless it might keep the importance of sensible planning forefront in your mind.

And keep an eye on your youngsters, even those who you may think should know better. See below the story of a 15 year old boy from Washington, Tyne and Wear who was injured on 8 October this year. He had purchased a packet of 10 fireworks from a classmate for the princely sum of £1.00. It later transpired that they were illegal fireworks, but not before he had suffered permanent injuries. He lit the firework in his bedroom to show his girlfriend "for a laugh". He has now agreed to make his case public to raise awareness.

On a lighter note, I do often find myself reviewing the Health & Safety Executive's (HSE) website for the "myth buster" stories. Case 217 -"Health and Safety Regulations blamed for controlling number of spectators at a local Round Table Bonfire and Firework Display"

To quote directly from the HSE article:

"Rather than blame "increasing health and safety regulation", it would have been more helpful if the chair had explained what additional measures they were having to take to manage the public given the success and increasing popularity of the event."

Simples. Health and safety is there for a reason. Do not use it as an excuse.

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