October 28, 2014

Hosting a Bonfire? Follow our Safety Tips

Remember, remember the 5th of November. But don’t let it be for all the wrong reasons.

If you’re planning to host an event this Bonfire Night, we’ve put together these Health & Safety tips to help you ensure you, your employees and your guests have a safe evening….

Fireworks at home or at friends fire work display can be great fun, as long as they are managed and fireworks used safely.

Each year, over half of all firework injuries are suffered by children 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. Fireworks are safe if you use them properly. If you’re putting on a home display, you should follow some simple steps to make sure that everyone has a good time without getting hurt. Did you know that sparklers get five times hotter than cooking oil? Sparklers are not toys and should never be given to a child under five.

New regulations covering sale of fireworks include:

  • The banning of air bombs and nuisance rockets and
  • New, restricted selling periods (from 1 January 2005)
  • Proper accountability for firework importers
  • Possession of fireworks by under 18s illegal
  • 11pm to 7am curfew (Except New Year’s Eve)
  • Maximum noise levels for fireworks.

Where and what to buy

You can only buy fireworks (including sparklers) from registered sellers for private use on these dates:

  • 15 October to 10 November
  • 26 to 31 December
  • 3 days before Diwali and Chinese New Year

At other times you can only buy fireworks from licensed shops.

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 up 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 have any more knowledge about using fireworks safely then you 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.


There are different categories of fireworks. Members of the public can buy and set off most of the fireworks that come under Categories 1 to 3. These are fireworks that include those that you can use indoors, in your garden or at a display. Always read the packet carefully and make sure that the fireworks you buy are suitable for the place where you are going to set them off.

  • Only one person should be in charge of 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.
  • Never try to relight any fire works that have not gone off
  • Remember to protect your animals and inform your neighbours who may have animals that you are having a fire work display

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.

Letting off the fireworks

  • Take great care at all times.
  • Recruit people with previous experience of firework displays. Have as few people as possible actually involved with the fireworks.
  • Do not allow smoking by your team when fireworks are being handled, or at any time during the display.
  • Unpack fireworks with great care and well away from any open fire, naked flame or flammable material. Remember that they are fragile and can easily be broken. Keep fireworks in a secure box which is kept closed.
  • Before lighting any firework, read the instructions on it carefully (by torchlight).
  • Make sure that the wind and the display are angled away from spectators.
  • For lighting display type fireworks, a device called a Bortfire is often provided by the manufacturer. Use Bortfires when available and always light fireworks at arm’s length.
  • Keep unused Fire works in a metal or wooden box and never carry them in pockets.
  • Alternative forms of safety lighters, such as a slow match, are often available.
  • Never use matches or lighters for lighting fireworks at a display. If any firework fails to go off, don’t go back to it. It could still be live and could go off in your face. Half an hour is the absolute minimum time to wait before you consider approaching it again.
  • A sudden change of wind could cause aerial fireworks to fall dangerously among spectators. In very windy weather, you should consider putting off the display altogether – however, disappointing that might be.

Sparkler Safety

Steps SSS Sparklers are a long-standing tradition during celebrations and other backyard summer parties. Though they are primarily sold at retailers during the weeks proceeding 5th Nov, They are both inexpensive and plentiful. And a fun way for children to get involved in the celebration

  • They are often viewed as being harmless but they do burn at fierce temperatures.
  • To a young child, the heat from a sparkler is equivalent to the heat from a welding torch.
  • While in theory, the chemical reaction created by lit sparklers is safe, their use is only safe for children who are properly instructed and supervised.
  • The primary safety concern for children using sparklers is to prevent burns. For this reason, adults should always show children how to hold sparklers and instruct them on safe handling.
  • Adults should not let children light their own sparklers and should not attempt to re-light those that have malfunctioned.
  • Keep sparklers in safe hands

Safety with sparklers

  • Store sparklers and other fireworks in a closed box in a cool, dry place.
  • Always light sparklers one at a time and wear gloves.
  • Never hold a baby or child if you have a sparkler in your hand.
  • Plunge finished sparklers hot end down into a bucket of water as soon as they have burnt out. They can stay hot for a long time.
  • Don’t take sparklers to public displays. It will be too crowded to use them safely.

Children and sparklers

  • Never give sparklers to the under 5s – they will not understand how to use them safely.
  • Always supervise children using sparklers.
  • Give children gloves to wear when holding sparklers.
  • Avoid dressing children in loose or flowing clothes – they may catch light.
  • Show children how to hold sparklers – away from their body and at arm’s length.
  • Teach children not to wave sparklers near anyone else or run while holding them.

In an emergency

  • Cool the burn or scald with cold water for at least 10 minutes.
  • Cut around material sticking to the skin – don’t pull it off.
  • Don’t touch the burn or burst any blisters.
  • Cover the burn with clean, non-fluffy material – cling film is ideal – to prevent infection.
  • If clothing catches fire, get the person to stop, drop to the floor and roll them in heavy material like a curtain.
  • Get advice from your doctor or accident and emergency department at your local hospital.

Planning for your display

  • Running a display takes a lot of work, so try to share the load by planning ahead.
  • Set up a committee whose members can each take responsibility for a particular task (including one person to be in charge of all safety arrangements).
  • Be clear on who will do what and when.
  • Be sure each member has a photocopy of this guide and follows its advice.
  • If possible, try to recruit at least one person with previous experience of firework displays.
  • Remember – fireworks not marked with ‘Complies with BS 7114 Part 2 1988′ are suitable for use only by professionals.
  • If you are organising a firework display for the general public, consult your local fire brigade for advice before you advertise it
  • Some fireworks can only be bought and used by firework professionals. These include: air bombs; aerial shells, aerial maroons, shells-in-mortar and maroons-in-mortar; all bangers; mini rockets; fireworks with erratic flight; some Category 2 and 3 fireworks which exceed certain size limits; and all Category 4 fireworks.
  • Are your plans for the night to include food and a bonfire where you are serving food consider some simple hygiene rule
  • Where you plan for a bonfire there are some precautions you need to follow
  • Remember that safety is the key to having a safe and successful November the 5th.

If you’re planning a bonfire

  • Bonfires need a lot of organising and can be a hazard. Many displays are a great success without one. If, after careful consideration, you do decide to have a bonfire, make one person responsible for it, from early planning to final clearing up.
  • Don’t site it too near your display or firework storage area.
  • Never use flammable liquids like paraffin or petrol to get it going as this can result in uncontrolled spread of fire or explosion.
  • Check immediately before lighting that there’s no animal or even a young child hidden inside.
  • Never put fireworks on a bonfire, even if they’re dud.
  • Don’t burn dangerous rubbish (e.g. aerosols, paint tins or foam-filled furniture)?
  • Remove any rubbish from your bonfire area in advance so there’s nothing that can be thrown onto the fire on the night.

Keep the authorities informed of your plans

November 5th and New Year’s Eve will be busy times for the authorities so give them plenty of warning on your plans. You may need to contact…

  • The local fire and rescue service.
  • The Police Local Authority (Check if you need a storage license.)

Things to do in advance

As well as liaising with the local authority, Police, Fire Brigade and First Aid organizations, you or your appropriate team member should:

  • Arrange for your fireworks to be delivered and stored securely (and circulate the manufacturers’ general instructions to your team).
  • Arrange for you and your team to be trained in the various tasks for the night, including all emergency drills.
  • Arrange for first aid posts to be manned by qualified people. Borrow or hire special clothing (bibs, jackets etc.) to identify you and your team on the night.
  • Arrange some form of public address system -as a safety measure, not just for commentary. A loud hailer will do as a bare minimum.
  • Arrange for fire extinguishers, buckets of water, and buckets of sand and metal litter bins to be available on the night.
  • Check that plenty of electric torches will be available on the night, with full batteries.
  • Publicise the fact that spectators are not allowed to bring their own fireworks (including sparklers) and will not be admitted if they do so.
  • Prepare all necessary signs.
  • Make absolutely sure that you’ll have enough people available on the night (including some cover for illness).
  • Draw up a detailed checklist of tasks and indicate who is to be responsible for each one.
  • Check whether you are adequately insured to cover any firework-related injuries to those present at the display.
  • Vet any traders you intend to allow on the site.
  • Animals can be terrified by fireworks. Warn your neighbours and local farmers in advance so they can keep pets indoors and take other necessary precautions.

Choosing the best site

You should choose a large, clear and well-mown area free from obstructions, well away from any buildings, trees and hazards like overhead cables, with as many safe entrances and exits as possible. These must be away from the firing area and dropping zone.

Make sure that all entrances are well lit, clearly sign-posted and kept free from obstructions. Clear away any undergrowth or very long grass. Have plenty of (metal) litter bins around the site. Make sure you can cater properly for disabled spectators. Watch out for any animals likely to be housed nearby. Allow at least 50m x 20m for your firing area. Beyond this you will need a dropping zone for spent fireworks of 100m x 50m in the downwind direction. Spectators should be kept back on the opposite side to the dropping zone at least 25m from the firing area.

You may need to consider car parking

If your event is going to be a particularly large one then you will traffic management arrangements and a more detail plan for the event

Falling fireworks can cause damage, so site any designated car parking well away from your display area and dropping zone and upwind of the display. Signpost any car park clearly and make sure that the entrance is quite separate from pedestrian access.

  • Do not permit parking anywhere else.
  • Crowd control arrangements.
  • Proper crowd control is essential and needs good planning.
  • Arrange for some stewards to be responsible for just this – at least one steward for every 250 spectators. Their job won’t be finished until the display is over; the site is cleared and made safe.
  • Your stewards should be easy to identify, perhaps with fluorescent bibs or jackets.
  • Be certain that your team know what to do in an emergency and have practiced safety drills.
  • Spectators must not be allowed into your display area. If they do encroach, stop the display immediately. Prepare and erect signs to clearly show the area.
  • Beware of overcrowding – seek advice from the police and follow it.
  • Fireworks and alcohol don’t mix. This will make crowd control more difficult.
  • None of the organisers should have alcoholic drinks.
  • Do not allow spectators to enter the site with their own fireworks – even sparklers.
  • Make sure that there are signs explaining this at all entrances.

When it’s all over, the work for you and your team doesn’t finish when the last firework goes off.

  • Spectators need to be cleared safely from the site.
  • The bonfire needs to be put out completely.
  • Spent firework cases must be gathered.
  • Spot used fireworks with a torch and use tongs or some other suitable tool, and wear strong gloves.
  • Don’t allow any children to collect firework cases.
  • Burning the spent cases is potentially dangerous and should be done with great care only after all your spectators have gone.
  • If any fireworks look as if they haven’t gone off after at least half an hour, douse them in a bucket of water and ask the Fire and Rescue Service for advice.

Most of all Enjoy it! Safely…

Some facts about fireworks

1. The first fireworks were probably made in China, around 2,000 years ago.

2.  In the Far East, fireworks have been used at religious ceremonies for centuries.

3. Last year over 900 people required hospital treatment from accidents involving fireworks.

4. The word for firework in Japanese, ‘hanabi’, means ‘fire-flower’.

5. The display in London at the 1995 VJ Day commemoration was Britain’s biggest within living memory. It used over 18 tonnes of fireworks and spanned two miles.

6. Italy and France were the first European countries to have fireworks, in the 1300s.

7. At family back-garden displays, sparklers cause more injuries than air-bombs, bangers, rockets and roman candles combined.

8. The first recorded use of fireworks in Britain was at the wedding of Henry VII in 1486.

9. Half of all firework accidents happen to children under the age fo 16.

10. The first fireworks recorded in America were set off by an Englishman, Captain John Smith, famous in the story of Pocahontas.

11. Coloured fireworks didn’t exist until the 1800s.

12. Three sparklers burning together generate the same heat as a blow-torch.

13. Hands and eyes are most at risk in firework accidents.

14. Most firework accidents are caused at family back-garden displays closely followed by incidents in the street.

15. Throwing a firework in a street or public place is a criminal offence, with a maximum fine of £5000.

If you need help or advice with your workplace Health & safety, contact us now.

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About the author

Eamon Griffin

About the author

Eamon Griffin

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