Despite annual safety warnings, firework celebrations still end in painful injuries for too many people, including very young children.
Yet fireworks can be great fun for families, not just around November 5 (Bonfire Night/Guy Fawkes Night), but also Diwali, New Year’s Eve and Chinese New Year.
Injury figures support the advice that the safest place to enjoy fireworks is at a large public display – far fewer people are injured here than at smaller family or private parties.
But if you’ll be having a firework party at home, you can make the occasion fun and safe for everyone by following the Firework Code, as well as some sparkler and bonfire safety tips.
Bonfire Safety Tips
If you have a bonfire, follow these simple guidelines:
- Warn your neighbours beforehand – so they are aware and can make necessary preparations
- Only burn dry material, do not burn anything which is wet or damp, this causes more smoke
- Check there are no cables (telephone wires etc) above the bonfire
- Build the bonfire away from sheds, fences and trees
- Don’t use petrol or paraffin to start the fire it can get out of control quickly
Once the bonfire is lit, make sure you:
- Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose nearby – in case of emergencies
- Don’t leave the bonfire unattended
- Keep children and pets away from the bonfire
- Don’t throw any fireworks into the fire
- Don’t burn aerosols, tyres, canisters or anything containing foam or paint – this could produce toxic fumes and some containers may explode, causing injury
- Once the bonfire has died down, spray the embers with water to stop it reigniting
Firework Safety Tips
Having fireworks at home can be great fun, if they are used safely. Figures show more children rather than adults get hurt by fireworks. Over the past five years over 350 pre-school children, some only a year old, were treated in hospital for fireworks injuries.
Where to buy
- Don’t cut corners just to save a few quid. Always buy fireworks from a reputable shop to make sure that they conform to British Standards. This means that they should have BS 7114 written on the box.
- Sometimes shops open for a short time before Bonfire Night but these may not be the best places to buy fireworks from. Staff in these shops might not be very knowledgeable about using fireworks safely and their fireworks might not meet British Standards.
- Whatever you do, don’t buy fireworks from anywhere you’re not sure about, such as the back of a van or from a temporary, unlicensed market stall.
Setting them off
- Only one person should oversee fireworks. If that’s you, then make sure you take all the necessary precautions. Read the instructions in daylight and don’t drink any alcohol until they’ve all been discharged. Make your preparations in advance, and in daylight.
On the night, you will need:
- A torch.
- A bucket or two of water.
- Eye protection and gloves.
- A bucket of soft earth to put fireworks in.
- Suitable supports and launchers if you’re setting off Catherine wheels or rockets
A sparkler can reach a temperature of up to 2,000°C – ie 20 times the boiling point of water, according to the Child Accident Prevention Trust – so the safety advice is:
- Light sparklers one at a time and wear gloves
- Don’t give sparklers to children under the age of five – they don’t properly understand why they can be dangerous
- Don’t hold babies and young children while you’re holding a sparkler in case they reach out unexpectedly
- Supervise children aged five and over when they’re holding sparklers
- Make sure children are wearing gloves (but be aware that they won’t fully protect their hands from burns)
- Don’t let children run around with sparklers or pick spent sparklers up once they’ve finished
- Have buckets of water to put spent sparklers in
- Only buy fireworks marked BS 7114
- Don’t drink alcohol if setting off fireworks
- Keep fireworks in a closed box
- Follow the instructions on each firework
- Light them at arm’s length, using a taper
- Stand well back
- Never go near a firework that has been lit
- Even if it hasn’t gone off, it could still explode
- Never put fireworks in your pocket or throw them
- Always supervise children around fireworks
- Light sparklers one at a time and wear gloves
- Never give sparklers to a child under five
- Keep pets indoors
- Don’t let off fireworks after 11pm
Alcohol and fireworks safety
People drink alcohol at 90% of fireworks parties in back gardens. In a survey, 84% of respondents said that people setting off fireworks had drunk at least 2-3 units of alcohol. This increases the risk of injury and makes adults less able to supervise children properly during the display.
- Never drink alcohol if you are setting off fireworks or attending a bonfire.
- Nominate people who are not drinking alcohol to take charge of late-night fireworks displays.
- Keep guests who are drinking alcohol well away from fireworks and the bonfire.
- Consider limiting the availability of alcohol until after the fireworks display.
- Do not carry fireworks in your pocket to street parties or celebrations.
- The clear message is that alcohol and fireworks don’t mix.