Bonfire & Firework Safety: Assessing The Risks

November 2, 2020
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Are you planning to host your own fireworks display?

Or the Perfect Bonfire Night Party?

Like many events this year, Bonfire Night 2020 has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The majority of large, public fireworks displays have been cancelled due to the difficulty of ensuring attendees socially distance themselves from others. However, many people will still want to celebrate and may host their own fireworks event or bonfire at home.

If you are going to be having your own event, you need to consider how to do so safely. Firstly, if you are planning to have fireworks or a bonfire event after 00:01 on Thursday 5th November (so after Wednesday 4th), England will be in lockdown and so only your household and members of your support bubble will be able to attend. If you are having an event before then, such as Wednesday evening, you must follow what your local COVID alert level permits you to do. Remember that any guests who aren’t in your household or bubble must leave before midnight as this is when restrictions begin.

As well as this, you must also consider the health and safety risks of a firework display or bonfire and ensure you know how to control and handle these situations. Both can cause serious injuries if they aren’t done so properly and safely. If you don’t feel comfortable hosting your Bonfire Night 2020 event with fireworks or a bonfire, there are alternative options, which we’ll explore throughout this article. Whatever you decide to do this year, we will help you to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable Bonfire Night.

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What Do the Different Local COVID Alert Levels Mean for Bonfire Night 2020?

Before you even begin to plan your Bonfire Night 2020 event, you need to ensure that it will comply with lockdown and COVID restrictions. You certainly don’t want to be putting your guests at risk of transmitting COVID-19 by inviting more people than are legally allowed. Nor do you want to be landed with a fine of up to £10,000 for hosting an illegal gathering!

If you are having your event from Thursday 5th November onwards, England will be under lockdown. This means you can only have an event with members of your household or support bubble in attendance.

If you have your event before Bonfire Night, you should consult the government website to ensure that you follow the rules for the local COVID alert level (tier) that you are in. To summarise, the following restrictions apply to each level:

  • Medium (Tier 1): you can have a maximum of six people at your event and must not socialise in groups larger than this. An exception to this is if your household or bubble exceeds six. For example, a family of two adults and four children can have one adult (who lives alone) round for Bonfire Night if they have already formed a support bubble together. Another example of an event allowed for those living in a Tier 1 area would be a household of two inviting four more people round to their house for a firework display. However, everyone from a different household who is present at this event must maintain a social distance of at least 2 metres at all times. For Tier 1, the rule of six includes both indoors and outside.
  • High (Tier 2): you can invite family and friends who aren’t in your household or support bubble to your Bonfire Night event so long as they are always outdoors, such as a garden or other outdoor space. You cannot invite them into your home, except to pass directly through if they need to do so to get into your garden. Again, when having people round, there must not be more than six people at your event. This includes all members of your own household who are present and children of any age. As for Tier 1, all members of different households must maintain a distance of at least 2 metres from one another.
  • Very High (Tier 3): you must not invite anyone to your event who isn’t in your household or support bubble. This is the highest local COVID alert level and therefore has the tightest restrictions. People cannot socialise inside or outside who are not from the same household or bubble.

Once you understand what you can do for Bonfire Night and who you can invite, you can then start to plan your event. Although the COVID restrictions may disrupt your plans slightly, you can still celebrate and have a fun evening.

Smiling parents with their two children

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Additional COVID-19 Considerations

Once you know that you can host a Bonfire Night event and who you can invite, you must then ensure that you take some further precautions to keep your guests safe. You should also consider:

  • Do you have enough space in your garden or other outdoor location? As well as needing enough space to have a bonfire or set off fireworks, your guests must maintain at least 2 metres distance from each other, if they’re from a different household. It may be dangerous to both maintain social distancing and set off fireworks, for example. Therefore, you must determine whether you can host your Bonfire Night safely. If not, you may need to reconsider how many people you have at your event, or what you do.
  • Can you put in place the necessary hygiene measures? For example, you could ask your guests to bring their own personal supply of hand sanitiser to use. You might also ask if they bring a face covering to wear if they need to enter your house, such as to get through to the garden or use your bathroom. You must also consider how they can use your bathroom without potentially transmitting the virus. Providing separate towels is one option you may take.
  • Do you and your guests know what to do if someone has COVID-19 symptoms or has to self-isolate? If any member of your household or bubble starts to show symptoms of COVID-19, you must not invite other people to your house. Likewise, if you are having guests from other households round (before the lockdown), they must not come if they develop symptoms or need to self-isolate.

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Bonfire and Firework Safety During COVID-19

If you’re having your own bonfire or firework display this year, you need to remember that both can be very dangerous if not properly controlled. Last year, the London Fire Brigade attended over 2,000 incidents over the Halloween and Bonfire Night period. With most public displays cancelled in 2020, it’s likely many people will host their own events who have not done so before. This means they may be inexperienced in setting off fireworks or starting and monitoring bonfires. The London Fire Brigade and many other services expect that the number of bonfire and firework related incidents will increase this year. If you haven’t set off fireworks or lit a bonfire before, it’s important that you fully understand how to do so safely.

By following safety rules, you can still celebrate Bonfire Night 2020 and do so safely, without putting anyone in danger. You can find the full Firework Code later on in this article. If you don’t feel comfortable setting off fireworks or having a fire, or believe you won’t be able to do so safely, you should commemorate the day in a different way.

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Alternatives to Bonfire and Fireworks for Bonfire Night 2020

It’s worth mentioning that most local councils and fire and rescue services, such as the London Fire Brigade, strongly discourage setting off fireworks or having bonfires in private gardens. This is because they can be incredibly dangerous and a health and safety risk to those involved and nearby. As explained, keeping safe on Bonfire Night is going to be even more of a challenge this year as a result of the pandemic.

Instead of setting off fireworks or having a bonfire, emergency services and local councils are suggesting alternative events for Bonfire Night 2020. For example, you could:

  • Light some sparklers and use these in your garden. These should be lit one at a time, gloves must always be worn, and a bucket of water should be kept close by. If there are children present, they must be supervised when using the sparklers, and children under five should not be given them at all.
  • Bake some traditional Bonfire Night treats such as toffee apples or parkin. This can be a fun and tasty activity for both children and adults alike. You could also make some mulled cider or apple juice. For some recipe inspiration, head to our Planning the Perfect Bonfire Night Party article.
  • Gather inside and play some board games or other party activities. This is another activity that can bring your family together and make something of the evening. If you do have a fireplace, you could always light that to create an alternative kind of bonfire.

Homemade toffee apples

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How to Conduct a Bonfire or Fireworks Risk Assessment

Remember that fireworks are explosives and must be handled correctly to ensure the safety of everyone nearby. In 2018/19, NHS digital reported that there were almost 2,000 occasions of people going to A&E linked to fireworks. Many of these accidents happened during the four weeks surrounding Bonfire Night and, on average, almost half of all firework injuries happen to children under the age of 16. Most of these injuries happen as a result of the unsafe handling of fireworks and a lack of safety precautions. By considering what control measures will be needed at your event and implementing them, you’ll keep yourself and your guests safe.

To help you to identify and control the hazards with hosting a fireworks display or bonfire, you must carry out a risk assessment in advance. The following stages and considerations apply every year, but are even more important when there are additional risks present due to the current pandemic.

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.

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.

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

You can achieve this by following the firework code and general safety tips that we have listed throughout this article.

Step 4 – Inform people of the preventative measures.

Make sure you tell people what precautions you have put in place and how it affects them. This should include explaining the fire safety measures that are in place to prevent accidents and ensuring that everyone understands what to do to follow them. Most importantly, make sure there is adult supervision for children at all times.

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

Observe whether anyone is still 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.

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Follow the Firework Code

You should always follow these 10 simple steps when setting off fireworks. This will ensure the safety of the person lighting the fireworks, those watching the display and neighbours.

  1. Only purchase fireworks from a reputable shop. They should be CE marked and have BS 7114 written on the box to prove they conform to British Standards.
  2. Plan your fireworks display. Make preparations in advance and plan where exactly you’ll be safely positioning the fireworks or bonfire. 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.
  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 the risk is lower if one were to accidentally set off. Before use, you should store the fireworks in the box they came in or in a metal box with a lid.
  4. Read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully for each firework. Always make sure the fireworks are suitable for the area you’re setting them off in.
  5. Supervise properly. Make sure there are at least two adults at the event so that one is always there to supervise children while the other safely lights the fireworks. Children must always be kept away from fires and fireworks.
  6. Light the firework at arm’s length. Do so with a taper, e.g. a safety gas (clicker) lighter, and then immediately stand back. Warn people once fireworks have been lit.
  7. 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.
  8. Stand well back from fireworks, away from the direction it’s facing. Safe spectator distances are usually recommended on the fireworks. You should make sure your guests keep their distance and could use tape as a barrier to prevent anyone from getting too close.
  9. Never use petrol or other dangerous liquids to light fires. This can be incredibly dangerous and cause you to quickly lose control of the fire, making it much harder to extinguish.
  10. Make sure that all flames and hot sources are extinguished at the end of the event. You must make the surroundings safe before you leave the area where you had the fireworks or bonfire unattended. This means ensuring that the bonfire is out completely.

Firework in the sky

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General Bonfire Night Safety Tips

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

  • Children should be supervised at all times. They may not fully grasp the consequences of not following safety precautions so they need constant adult guidance.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Inform your neighbours that you are having a Bonfire Night event and whether you’ll be having fireworks or a bonfire.
  • 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.

You can find further information on keeping children safe during a fireworks display on the Child Accident Prevention Trust website.


Safety Tips for Sparklers and Bonfires

Your display will likely consist of more than fireworks. If you’ve also got sparklers and a bonfire, you must consider how to manage the risks these pose. Follow these safety tips for ensuring people handle sparklers safely and that bonfires do not get out of control.

Sparklers

  • Don’t hand sparklers to children under 5. Sparklers can reach temperatures of 1600 °C and can be very dangerous.
  • Anyone who handles sparklers should wear gloves. They should also wear 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 shouldn’t be waved around close to other people. Ensure anyone who is using one is a few feet away from other people.
  • Do not hold a baby or child in your arms while also holding a sparkler. When using 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.

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.
  • Check the bonfire for hiding pets or wild animals before lighting it. Small animals like hedgehogs or frogs may have made their way into the pile.
  • Do not pour petrol or paraffin onto a fire. Instead, use firelighters which 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. Scarves should be tucked in.
  • 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.
  • Do not throw discarded fireworks onto bonfires. They may still have some gunpowder left in them.

Bonfire

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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).
  • 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.

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If you follow these health and safety rules and put the necessary precautionary measures in place, you can host a Bonfire Night event that is free from dangers and enjoyable for everyone involved.


Further Resources:

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Fire Safety