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Fireworks …. and I’m not referring to the forthcoming UK elections……

A few weeks ago, Sainsbury’s made the headlines when it seemingly, almost incidentally, announced via a random Twitter response that it would not be selling fireworks this Bonfire Night season.

The press soon leapt on the bandwagon, trying to connect the announcement to a Scottish Poll of only a couple of weeks previous, suggesting that the Public were no longer behind retail availability of fireworks.

Not to bore readers with too many facts and figures, but essentially the current ‘problems’ with fireworks are one of our own making; that’s not to ignore commercial activity of course.

Up until the late 1990s/early 2000s, the numbers of injuries was steadily dropping and there had been little change in firework legislation. In fact, the government even stopped recording specific ‘Bonfire Night’ related hospital attendances.

Following the Sainsbury’s announcement, there have been increased calls for fireworks to be banned, by charities representing groups as diverse as pet lovers to traumatised military veterans. Yet Fireworks are a significant cultural event going back to the Gunpowder Plot and as the UK has become more culturally diverse, events such as Chinese New Year and Diwali have increased our demand for their use. But is there a happy median to be found? Whether living in our towns and cities or the smaller countryside communities not everyone has access to Public displays.

The retail sale of fireworks has increased considerably in the past 20 years as has their complexity. No longer content with a Family Box for £20 or £30 that could happily be used in a typical back garden, we now buy fireworks that have names such as The Terminator, or even simply Big Boom.

British Standards

Despite BS7114 being the quoted safety standard in the UK’s still extant ‘Fireworks Regulations 2004’, the standard no longer exists.

Under the old BS7114, fireworks for home use were simply a single category, which had a safety distance of 5 mtrs. This safety distance had been slowly reduced in the preceding decades. The replacement EU wide standard, BS EN 15947-1, allows for a safety distance of 8 mtrs for spectators. That’s basically just under the height of a typical house; how many people have a garden big enough to allow such safety distances?

I randomly collected firework leaflets from 4 UK retailers, ASDA, Morrisons, ALDI and the Range; whilst all to varying degrees proclaimed the ‘Ohh and Ahh’ aspects as crowd pleasers, only ASDA (in a font about 2mm high) informed customers of the 8 mtr safety distance requirement.

Around the Globe, regulations differ wildly. Whilst in some countries, seeing members of the public trying to blow themselves up is not unusual (just search youtube for ‘Tultepec, Mexico’) in other places the home use of fireworks are completely banned.

But there are intermediate steps that can be taken with firework safety; in some US States/Counties for example, only ‘Safe and Sane’ fireworks are allowed. Regulations differ between legislatures, but in essence nothing projects higher than about 2 mtrs from the ground or makes a loud bang.

A year on since one of the biggest fires in Nottingham’s history ripped through the Cattle Market, businesses continue to count the costs of the devastating night. The cause was a firework aimed at one of the businesses on the site and three people aged between 18 and 26 are currently awaiting trial for arson.

Is it now time we reviewed the UK regulations, to not only prevent stress to animals and veterans amongst other vulnerable groups in society, but also to minimise fires, assaults and sheer vandalism in some quarters?

Bernard Carey is a Chartered Occupational Safety & Health Practitioner, specialising in providing practical and proportionate support to small businesses.