postheadericon Firework safety advice


Since the Chinese made the first fireworks in the ninth century, exploding them at New Year to ward off evil spirits, fireworks have continued to provide a spectacular source of enjoyment.
But they can be dangerous, and every year hundreds of people are injured on Bonfire Night.
Displays are getting bigger and more spectacular, but they are also more likely to cause serious harm if fireworks are used improperly.
We talk to John Simpson, a senior London Fire Brigade officer, Rebecca Lefort from the Red Cross, Mr John Grindle, a consultant ophthalmologist and Dr Thomas Stuttaford about how to enjoy the celebration safely.

Preparing for your firework display

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    firework display
Only buy fireworks from a reputable shop and look for the BS 7114 or CE mark.
'Fireworks can be thrilling, but they are explosives and can cause injuries if handled irresponsibly,' warns John Simpson.
'A trip to hospital, or wrecked property, will certainly make you remember the 5th November – but for all the wrong reasons! It's safer to attend an organised event.
'But if you are planning your own display, only buy fireworks from a reputable shop and look for the BS 7114 or CE mark, which indicates that fireworks meet British or European safety standards. Don't risk buying fireworks from an unlicensed market stall or car boot sale.'
It can help to have:
  • a metal box with a lid to store fireworks
  • two buckets of water and earth
  • a fire extinguisher
  • goggles and gloves.
Instructions can be difficult to read by torchlight – so read them beforehand during the day.
Never attempt to decipher them by lighting a match. Get pets out of the way too, keeping them indoors, with windows and curtains closed because animals get scared by the flashing lights and bangs from fireworks.
'Do check that the base of your rockets have been properly secured before lighting them because they can reach speeds up to 150 miles per hour,' says Dr Stuttaford.
'At a friend's Bonfire Night party, when my children were small, the milk bottle holding a lit rocket tipped because it hadn't been dug deep enough into the sand. The rocket zoomed off sideways and missed a child by inches. If you're planning to set off Catherine Wheels or rockets, build suitable supports and launchers.'

Lighting fireworks

'Never play with fireworks,' cautions John Simpson.
'Only adults should handle fireworks, and even then should light them with tapers at arm's length – then stand well back.
'If a lit firework doesn't go off – don't return to investigate – because it could still explode. Never store them in your pocket, throw spent fireworks onto a bonfire. Don't drink alcohol if you are responsible for letting off fireworks.'
Mr John Grindle warns that fireworks and bonfires give off sparks and debris, which can land in the eye, cause pain and even damage your vision.
'To protect your eyes, wear goggles that fit you properly and conform to European Standard BSEN 166, when lighting fireworks,' he says.

Children and sparklers

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    children and sparklers
Only give lit sparklers to children over five, and never leave children alone playing with them.
More children than adults get hurt by fireworks. Even humble sparklers are a major cause of burns as they can reach 2,000 ºC – 20 times the boiling point of water.
To avoid injuries, light sparklers one at a time – preferably wearing gloves. Ask children to stand back whilst you're lighting them.
Only give lit sparklers to children over five, and never leave children alone playing with them.
Once they've been used, dunk the hot end of the sparkler into a bucket of sand. Beware of children's loose clothes, such as scarves, catching alight.
'If someone does get a minor burn, firstly cool the area affected under a running cold tap for 10 minutes,' advises Rebecca Lefort from the Red Cross.
'Then loosely cover it with cling film or a plastic bag to keep it clean.'

Dangers of bonfires

Bonfires can collapse unpredictably – sideways, as well as inwards – so it might be necessary to fence off a boundary, especially if there are small children about.
'Whilst working in Accident and Emergency at a London Hospital, a young child was brought in who had sustained severe burns when a bonfire had collapsed over him because he had been up close looking at the burning Guy,' says Dr Stuttaford.
Also beware of lighting bonfires close to trees.
'On another Bonfire Night, a relative lit a fire in a woodland clearing. Transfixed by the fireworks, we didn't notice sparks setting light to the bough of a nearby tree until the burning branch came crashing down, narrowly missing us – singeing our coats.
'Remember, all clothes, even those labelled low flammability can catch fire.'
Bonfire Night first aid kit
Plasters in assorted sizes.
Sterile wound dressings for minor wounds.
Triangular cloth bandages for hand or arm injuries.
Safety pins, disposable gloves and scissors.
Non-alcoholic cleansing wipes for cleaning hands, cuts and grazes.
Adhesive tape to secure bandages.
Sterile gauze swabs to clean wounds.
Ice pack to reduce swelling and pain.
Tweezers to pick out splinters.
Thermometer to assess body temperature.

More information

British Red Cross: easy to learn, easy to remember everyday first aid.