October 26, 2018
With bonfire night just around the corner people are starting to plan where or how they will be celebrating this year. Maybe you have been invited to a house party or plan on going to a public event, either way, whilst fireworks are a wonderful way to celebrate this special occasion, fireworks pose certain risks, and safety procedures naturally need to be followed to ensure a fun, safe and memorable night.
One of the most obvious risks of using fireworks and sparklers is the potential for them to cause significant physical harm and injuries. The vast majority of injuries are to the eyes, head or hands, leaving visible scars for life. This can be down to insufficient space, unsafe practices or a lack of knowledge such as how to set off a firework safely.
I know only too well how things can go wrong on bonfire night and vividly remember when what should have been a fun night for me and my husband, turned into one that we will never forget. We had been invited to a neighbour’s bonfire party. There was a light breeze and we were all struggling to get the sparklers lit as the wind kept blowing out the butane lighter’s flame. A few of us stood together to create a wind break and my husband held our sparklers in his hand whilst igniting the lighter in the other. He tried a couple of times and eventually the spark discharged.
We all stepped back as the sparklers glowed really bright but in an instant the bright spark disappeared. I heard my husband shout out and watched as he frantically shook his hand. The two sparklers had ignited at the same time and the spark discharge was immense. The sparklers had ignited and burned from top to bottom in a matter of seconds and created such heat that they bonded onto the skin of his hands, causing significant burns.
We spent the rest of the night at the Accident and Emergency Department at hospital where he had his burns treated. Thankfully, the burns healed, but the memory of what happened that night revisits us every bonfire night.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, following our experience, my advice would be not to use any sparklers or fireworks at home. It’s always safer to attend public fireworks displays and leave the lighting to the professionals. That said, accidents can (and do) still happen.
"An explosion in number of firework-related injuries"
In 2016, St John’s Ambulance issued some first aid advice following a survey, which revealed that a third of parents and grandparents witnessed an injury during Bonfire Night celebrations and a staggering 4,506 people visited A&E from 2014-2015 for treatment due to a fireworks-related injury. This was an increase of 111% from the 2,141 firework-related injuries reported in 2009-10. These figures are still increasing year on year.
One teenager suffered life-changing injuries, losing his thumb, index and middle fingers when a firework exploded in his hand. This is a devastating injury as it means loss of what’s known as the pincer grip — being able to hold objects between the thumb and fingers.
For those who do choose to hold a display in their back garden, it’s important to manage the risks by running through a checklist of safety measures, and to ensure that each and every one is adhered to before letting off the next firework.
Simple Steps and Awareness can make all the difference
- Never underestimate the power of smaller fireworks including those in selection boxes. These can be the most dangerous because people wrongly assume that you don’t need to bother securing them. But you do, regardless of the size of the firework.
- Make sure that nobody is wearing flammable clothing.
- Make sure everyone stands a suitable distance away from where the fireworks are being set off. If a firework doesn’t set alight properly or doesn’t go off properly, you should leave it to cool down before going over to pick it up.
- Children should not be allowed to play with fireworks. Things like firecrackers, rockets, and sparklers are too dangerous. If you do choose to give children sparklers, make sure they keep them outside and away from their face, clothing, and hair. Only light one at a time. Sparklers can reach 1,800°F (982°C) — hot enough to melt gold.
- Buy only legal fireworks (legal fireworks have a label with the manufacturer's name and directions; illegal ones are unlabelled) and store them in a cool, dry place.
- Fireworks should only ever be used outside. Have a bucket of water and a hose nearby in case of accidents.
- Steer clear of others setting off fireworks. They can backfire or shoot off in the wrong direction.
- Never throw or point fireworks at someone, even as a joke.
- Don't hold fireworks in your hand or have any part of your body over them while lighting. Wear eye protection, and don't carry fireworks in your pocket — the friction could set them off.
- Light one firework at a time (not in a glass or metal container), and never relight a firework.
- Don't allow children to pick up pieces of fireworks after an event. Some may still be ignited and can explode at any time.
- Soak all fireworks in a bucket of water before disposing of them.
As for Public displays, these naturally require a high standard of planning to reduce any significant hazards with consideration being given to the event location, projected audience attendance, the size of the display, prevailing winds, minimum safety distances, nearby structures and traffic routes etc.
The reason behind the location being the first safety consideration are the minimum safe distance and prevailing winds which become an even more important safety consideration when a bonfire is being burned.
This was highlighted by the 2011 M5 motorway crash that killed 7 people and injured 51 people, later resulting in the person who had organized the event being charged with failing to ensure the safety of others under the Health and Safety at Work Etc 1974 Act.
Ultimately, you are far less likely to have an accident if you stay informed on how to take care of yourself. Even if it’s not for your own benefit, educate yourself for the safety of others around you and remember…. fireworks are meant to be enjoyed, but you'll enjoy them much more knowing your family and friends are safe.