In this article
Firework displays can be stunning and are a chance to bring the community together. They are a traditional way to mark celebrations for various holidays including Bonfire Night (November 5th), New Year’s Eve and Chinese New Year.
Fireworks are sometimes used to commemorate special occasions in the UK, such as the Queen’s Jubilee. The four-minute firework display at Buckingham Palace that marked the finale of national celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee in 2012, is said to have cost £100,000 and was watched by more than 100 million people across the globe.
Huge events such as the Jubilee celebration, require careful planning and are often overseen by teams of experts. Whether you have the responsibility of planning a large-scale firework display or a small, private party in your own garden, safety is always key when storing and handling fireworks.
Many people underestimate the danger of fireworks, despite the fact that figures from NHS Digital claim that there were 2,000 occasions of people attending A&E as a result of firework-related incidents in 2018/19.
Over the Bonfire Night/Diwali celebrations for 2018, there were also 35,000 visits to the NHS website, with people looking for advice on treating burns and scalds. This figure indicates significantly higher traffic than the website would usually expect to experience and reflects the fact that celebrations that involve firework displays do sometimes result in accidents and injuries.
Fireworks are dangerous because they are fast and made from combustible, explosive materials. A rocket, for example, can reach a speed of 150 miles an hour. Fireworks cannot only injure, but they also pose a risk of accidentally starting a fire.
Each year, people suffer accidents as a result of the improper use of fireworks. Consumers can purchase most fireworks (from licensed sellers) and use them (within certain timeframes) without any training or insurance being required.
For public displays, insurance is needed and a health and safety risk assessment will have been conducted by a competent person to identify and manage hazards and ensure, as far as possible, the safety of attendees.
A well-managed event is often the safest way to enjoy a fireworks display; however, many people still like to host their own parties at home featuring fireworks. To do this as safely as possible, they should follow the Firework Code.
If having a bonfire also, they should follow some safety tips to minimise the chance of any accident or injury.
Common injuries incurred from fireworks include:
- Burns (especially to the hands or face).
- Eye injuries (these can be severe if the soft tissue in the eye becomes damaged, and can result in sight loss).
- Injuries to hands and fingers.
In extreme cases, improper firework storage could result in an explosion, which could have devastating consequences.
As well as handling fireworks and bonfires safely, it is important to also act responsibly. Keep in mind that fireworks, in particular those that make large, loud bangs, can sometimes be upsetting and triggering to pets, wildlife and people who suffer with certain mental health conditions such as PTSD.
On nights that you expect a large number of fireworks to go off, such as November 5th, pets that would usually roam (such as cats) should be kept in doors as far as possible. This reduces the chance of them becoming frightened, disorientated and getting lost due to the noise created by fireworks.
Generally, it is considered good etiquette to limit setting off fireworks in your garden to dates that people would expect to hear fireworks, such as the week of November 5th, but this is not designated by any legislation.
The sets of guidelines that give safety advice for how to use fireworks safely have become widely known in the UK as the Firework code. These guidelines are widely publicised around Bonfire Night (November 5th) when the majority of firework-related accidents occur, often accompanied by the tag line BE SAFE NOT SORRY.
The basics of the Firework code give advice such as:
- Keep fireworks in a closed box.
- Light fireworks at arm’s length.
- Stand well back.
- Only buy fireworks that are CE stamped.
- Keep pets indoors.
- Use fireworks only at official displays or in private gardens.
- Do not return to a lit firework (they can still explode).
- Do not give sparklers to small children (under five years old).
- Fireworks should not be set off after 11pm (except on certain, recognised National Days).
- Do not drink alcohol when you are in charge of fireworks.
- Never buy fireworks illegally (from unlicensed sellers or if you are under 18).
- Never keep fireworks in your pocket.
Following the DOs and DON’Ts of the Firework Code can help to keep people safe around fireworks and minimise the chances of anyone incurring an injury, having an accident or any property getting damaged.
Public displays usually take place on fields or suitable open ground away from built-up areas and might be organised by sports clubs, schools or by specialist professionals as part of a wider event, such as a concert. These are usually ticketed events.
Firework displays can be fun, colourful and spectacular events, but they require careful planning and a clear and consistent approach to safety. This should help the event to go ahead as successfully as possible.
The same advice is applicable to public firework displays as it is to private firework parties, such as only purchasing fireworks from reputable suppliers and storing them safely.
However, when there are going to be a large number of spectators and far more variables to control, more careful planning and execution is necessary:
- Keep in mind weather conditions that may affect the trajectory of fireworks.
- Severe, adverse weather (such as high winds) would make firework displays unsafe and events would have to be cancelled or rescheduled.
- A competent person should conduct a risk assessment based on the layout/geography of the venue, the weather forecast, how many people will be attending etc.
- Appropriate insurance should be purchased if it is required.
- Spectators must be kept a safe distance (in accordance with the instructions relating to the category of firework being used) and no one should be permitted in the zone that the fireworks will fall in.
- The display (and bonfire) should be operated by a designated person, or people, with everyone clear on their role.
- Category 4 fireworks must only be used by trained professionals.
- Have plans in place for if an incident occurs – are there enough designated first-aiders and has someone been nominated to call the emergency services if required?
- After the event the site should be checked and cleared, with any debris disposed of appropriately.
Firework safety tips
Parties are usually times of fun and entertainment.
If you plan on having a firework display to enhance your evening, follow some simple steps to ensure that everyone has a safe and enjoyable time:
- Never buy fireworks from unlicensed retailers – fireworks bought from non-reputable sellers could be unsafe and illegal.
- Keep fireworks in their original box (this will have storage instructions and guidelines for usage printed on).
- Keep pets indoors and safe.
- Do not allow children to handle, play with or play near fireworks.
- Never return to a lit firework (unless the official instructions say otherwise).
- If you are having a firework party, have a first aid kit on hand in case there are any minor burns or injuries. More serious burns must be treated by a medical professional.
- Do not take risks and use common sense – fireworks and parties are fun but keep in mind that they are essentially small explosives and should be handled as such.
- It is dangerous to light or set up fireworks when you are impaired with drugs or alcohol – have a designated, responsible person or people in charge of the fireworks at your party.
- Always read and follow the instructions on fireworks.
Sparklers are not recommended for children under five. Children will need to be briefed on how to handle their sparkler safely as they become extremely hot and sparks can fly from them. Care must be taken not to make contact between the hot sparkler and the skin or hair, or any flammable material.
1. Hold the sparkler at arm’s length to light (adults may wish to light them and hand them to children once they are lit).
2. Wear gloves.
3. Only light one sparkler at a time.
4. Do not wave sparklers too close to other people or yourself.
5. Do not touch the end of a sparkler as they are very hot (sparklers can burn at 1000°C–1600°C).
6. Expired sparklers should be placed in a bucket of cold water to cool down before being disposed of.
7. Keep lit sparklers away from animals.
A fire that goes out of control poses a serious threat to life and can damage property and the natural world.
Care must be taken when preparing, lighting and maintaining a bonfire:
- Choose a sensible location for the bonfire away from wooden fences, sheds or overhanging trees.
- A designated person should be responsible for the bonfire.
- Keep a container of water on hand in case of accidents.
- Used fireworks should not be thrown into a bonfire.
- Flammable liquids, chemicals and accelerants such as petrol should not be used on a bonfire.
- Children should not be allowed to play near the bonfire and should be well supervised at all times.
- Do not leave a lit bonfire unattended and extinguish it at the end of the night (rather than letting it burn out naturally).
- Loose clothing, scarves, long hair that is not tied back etc. could easily catch fire if you stand too close to a lit bonfire. Dress sensibly and keep a safe distance.
What are the different firework categories?
Consumer fireworks are separated into three categories: F1, F2 and F3
- Category F1 fireworks are for indoor use. They can be used in close proximity to people and have minimal safety distances (such as 1m).
- Category F2 fireworks are outdoor fireworks. These have spectator distances of at least 8m.
- Category F3 fireworks are outdoor fireworks. These have spectator distances of at least 25m.
There is a separate category, category F4, but these fireworks are for professional use only.
Category F1 fireworks are often novelty, ‘throwdown’ items such as firecrackers or party poppers. Anyone over the age of 16 can legally buy, carry or use category F1 fireworks. Anyone over the age of 12 can buy Christmas crackers.
Adults over the age of 18 can buy, carry and use category F1, F2 and F3 fireworks (providing they are acting within the parameters of the law around fireworks).
Fireworks and the law
- Fireworks are not to be purchased by anyone under the age of 18 (this excludes items such as party poppers).
- Fireworks should not be set off between 11pm and 7am except for:
– On Bonfire Night (when the cut off time is midnight).
– On New Year’s Eve / Diwali / Chinese New Year (when the cut off time is 1am).
– In Scotland, where fireworks should not be set off before 6pm.
The penalties for selling (or using) fireworks illegally vary from an on-the-spot fine of £90 to being imprisoned for up to six months. Retailers who are found to be breaking the law can be fined up to £5,000.
Retailers are responsible for checking the ages of people who attempt to purchase fireworks. They are also responsible for displaying a poster about underage sale and possession of fireworks.
There are also limits on the dates that fireworks (including sparklers) can be purchased for private use, from registered sellers such as supermarkets.
- Between 15th October to 10th November.
- Between 26th to 31st December.
- 3 days prior to Diwali or Chinese New Year.
At other times throughout the year fireworks may still be purchased, but only from licensed shops.
When fireworks are used irresponsibly, they pose a significant risk to people, animals and property. Fireworks can cause serious injury, damage to houses and buildings and are a significant fire risk.
It is an offence to throw or set off fireworks (including sparklers and F1 fireworks) in or into a:
- Public space.
This means that fireworks should only be used as part of a licensed, public event or on private property, such as in your own garden.
People setting off fireworks in the street or outside of the designated hours that they are allowed, may be considered as demonstrating anti-social behaviour. In most cases, people illegally use fireworks due to being ignorant of the law.
Sometimes, fireworks are purposely misused and this is a matter for the police to investigate. To report a crime, you can call the non-emergency number 101. In an emergency, always call 999.
By following the Firework Code, understanding the law around fireworks and respecting those around us, we can celebrate together more responsibly and enjoy firework displays more safely.