Bonfire & Firework Safety: Assessing The Risks

November 4, 2016
Clock Icon 7 min read

Are you planning to host your own fireworks display?

Or the Perfect Bonfire Night Party?

Health and safety around fire is so important if you’re planning to host your own fireworks event, whether it be for Bonfire Night, New Year’s Eve, Diwali, or Chinese New Year.

Not only will potentially dozens of people be attending, but there will likely be children present too, whose safety needs extra attention paid to.

children watching fireworks display

Fireworks can be extremely volatile if not properly handled and if fire safety is not kept in mind. They may be lovely to look at, but don’t forget: you’re handling explosives! (Many of which can travel up to 150mph.) Likewise, bonfires need to be safely controlled to stop a fire from wreaking havoc in the neighbourhood.


Safety Statistics on Fireworks

  • According to St John Ambulance, in 2014/15 firework injuries accounted for 4,506 NHS A&E attendances.
  • According to the UK Fire Service, over the past five years over 350 pre-school children, some only a year old, were treated in hospital for fireworks injuries.
  • According to RoSPA, injury figures support the advice that far fewer people are injured at public displays than at smaller family or private parties.
  • According to Gov.uk, around half of all firework injuries happen to children under the age of 16.

fireworks bonfire night display

These facts and statistics aren’t meant to deter you from hosting a fireworks display. Most firework injuries are a result of unsafe handling and a lack of safety precautions. So as long as you know how to properly set off fireworks, safely control a bonfire, and put in place control measures for preventing injuries, you’ll be perfectly safe hosting your event.

This includes conducting a full risk assessment before you begin a fireworks display, which helps you recognise how to reduce and eliminate potential hazards.


How to Conduct a Bonfire or Fireworks Risk Assessment

Step 1 – Identify the fire hazards, e.g.:

  • Rogue or faulty fireworks.
  • Mishandled sparklers.
  • Bonfire flames and embers.
  • Things nearby that could catch on fire and cause fire to spread, e.g. buildings, fences, trees, shrubbery, etc.

sparklers risk

Step 2 – Identify the people at risk, e.g.:

  • People lighting fireworks.
  • People controlling a bonfire.
  • People lighting and handling sparklers.
  • People attending the display, including children.
  • Neighbours.

children watching bonfire night fireworks

Step 3 – Evaluate the risks and decide how to remove or reduce them.

This can be achieved by following the firework code and general safety tips, as listed below.

Step 4 – Inform people of the preventative measures.

Give a brief announcement about what fire safety measures are in place to prevent accidents and make sure that everyone understands what to do to follow them. Most importantly, make sure there is adult supervision for children at all times.

fireworks family

Step 5 – Review to make sure your preventative methods are working.

Observe whether anyone is still clearly at risk. Your measures and instruction may not be sufficient if people are still able to put themselves in harm’s way. For example: standing too close to fireworks being set off or not wearing safety gear.


Follow the Firework Code

You should always follow these 10 simple steps for setting off fireworks. They ensure the safety of both the person lighting the fireworks and those watching the display.

1. Only purchase fireworks from a reputable shop. They should have CE and BS 7114 written on the box to prove they conform to British Standards.

fireworks

2. Plan your fireworks display. Make preparations in advance, preferably in daylight so you have a better sense of your surroundings.

3. Keep fireworks in a closed box. Take one out at a time, rather than emptying them all onto the floor and setting them up. This means risks are lower if one were to accidentally set off.

4. Read and follow the instructions carefully on each firework. Always make sure the fireworks are suitable for the area you’re setting them off in.

5. Never put fireworks in your pocket. Store them in the box they came in or in a metal box with a lid.

6. Never throw fireworks (including sparklers). It is illegal to do so (you could be fined up to £5000).

sparkler safety

7. Angle fireworks well away from spectators and buildings. This way, if the fireworks fall over or don’t set off properly they won’t hit anything or anyone.

8. Light the firework at arm’s length. Do so with a taper, e.g. a safety gas (clicker) lighter. Warn people once fireworks have been lit.

9. Never return to a firework once it has been lit. Even if it doesn’t look like it’s been lit properly or it has fallen over, it could still explode. Don’t risk it – you and others will be safer if you just leave it alone.

10. Stand well back from fireworks, away from the direction it’s facing. Safe spectator distances are usually recommended on the fireworks.


General Bonfire Night Safety Tips

In addition to following the firework code, you should keep in mind the following general safety tips when hosing an event:

  • Children should be supervised at all times. They may not fully grasp the consequences of not following safety precautions so they need adult guidance.

family bonfire night fireworks sparklers

  • Only one person should be in charge of setting off fireworks. That way, fewer people are put at risk.
  • Do not drink alcohol if you are in charge of setting off fireworks or tending to a bonfire. Also, keep alcohol well away from fireworks and bonfires.
  • Guests should always be kept at a safe distance. Adhere to the safe spectator distance guidance on the fireworks and make sure you clearly mark a line/barrier that people should not cross.
  • Avoid attending fireworks/bonfire displays outdoors if you have heart problems, asthma, or bronchitis. You can still enjoy them from inside!
  • Keep pets indoors. Ensure doors, windows, and curtains are closed to reduce the sounds of explosions, and have some background noise on to help distract them, e.g. the TV. Don’t try to coax them out of hiding; this may frighten them more.

cat indoors

  • Do not set off fireworks after midnight on bonfire night. It is illegal to do so. On New Year’s Eve, Diwali, and Chinese New Year, the cut off is 1am.
  • Learn how to treat minor burns, just in case. But always call for emergency services immediately if things are beyond your level of skill.

There is also further information on the Child Accident Prevention Trust website for ensuring children’s safety during a fireworks display.


Sparklers and Bonfires

Your display likely consists of more than fireworks: if you’ve also got sparklers and bonfires, that’s three times as much risk. Follow these safety tips for ensuring people handle sparklers safely and that bonfires do not get out of control.

Safety Tips for Sparklers

  • Don’t hand sparklers to under 5s. Sparklers can get hotter than cooking oil and can be dangerous.
  • Anyone who handles sparklers should wear gloves. Also make sure they’re wearing a long-sleeved shirt or coat to cover bare skin.
  • Sparklers should be held at arm’s length when being lit. Have one person hold the sparkler while another person lights it with a taper.

sparklers children

  • Sparklers shouldn’t be waved around close to other people. Ensure people keep a few feet’s separation distance between them.
  • Do not hold a baby/child in your arm while also holding a sparkler. Your attention should be solely focused on the sparkler.
  • Extinguish sparklers in a bucket of cold water. Keep plenty of buckets nearby for people to extinguish their sparklers so they don’t have to walk far.

Safety Tips for Bonfires

  • Choose a clear, safe site. It should be away from fences, sheds, bushes, trees, roads (as smoke can pose a danger to traffic), anywhere children may be playing, and where fireworks are being lit.

bonfire night

  • Check the bonfire for hiding pets or wild animals before lighting it. Small animals like hedgehogs or frogs may have made their home in it.
  • Do not pour petrol, paraffin, or meths onto a fire. Use fire lighters; this will prevent dangerous flare-ups.
  • Do not burn domestic waste. This could cause pollution or harm people’s health.
  • Keep buckets of water and/or a hose that is hooked up to a water source nearby. Chances are you won’t need them, but prevention is better than cure.
  • Tie back long hair and avoid wearing loose clothing. You don’t want to have anything dangling from you that could easily catch on fire. Avoid wearing nylon clothing, which melts against the skin. Also, tuck in scarves.
  • Ensure the fire is fully extinguished after the event is finished. A fire that may look like it will safely die out could very easily cause a new fire while everyone’s in bed.

discarded fireworks

  • Do not throw discarded fireworks onto bonfires. They may still have some gunpowder left in them.

Safety Gear and Equipment

To ensure that all these activities are carried out safely, you should have on hand:

  • A torch.
  • Buckets of water (for extinguishing sparklers or for emergencies).
  • Buckets of sand.
  • A hose (hooked up to a water source).

protective gloves and goggles

  • Eye protection.
  • Gloves.
  • A bucket of soft earth to put the fireworks in.
  • Suitable supports and launchers, e.g. for Catherine wheels.

Furthermore, make sure to cover as many parts of your skin as possible, just in case. And lastly…

bonfire night fireworks

Have a great fireworks display!


Further Resources:

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Fire Safety
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