HSE - Organising Firework Displays
Where Do I Begin?
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 the safety arrangements).
Be clear on who will do what and when and makes sure that each member has a copy 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 BS7114 Part 2 1988' are suitable for use only by professionals.
All of the fireworks sold by Star Fireworks comply with the British Standard.
Who Do I Tell?
Don't forget that the relevant authorities are always busy, so give them plenty of warning so that they can best help you.
- Fire Brigade
- First Aid (e.g. St John's Ambulance)
- Local Authority (check to see if you need a storage licence)
How Much Space Will I Need?
As much as possible! 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 at least 25 metres back from the firing area on the opposite side to the fall out zone, behind a barrier. The diagram above shows a suggested site plan.
Where's the Best Site?
A clear and well mown area, free from obstructions, that's well away from any buildings, trees or other hazards such as overhead cables.
There should be as many safe entrances and exits as possible, which are away from both the Firing Area and the Fall Out Area. They should be well lit, clearly signposted and kept free of any obstructions.
Clear away any undergrowth or very long grass. Have plenty of metal litter bins and make sure you can cater for disabled spectators. Also, watch out for any animals that are likely to be housed nearby.
What About Car Parking?
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 any pedestrian access. Do not permit parking anywhere else.
How Do I Organise The Spectators?
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 clear 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 practised 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 display 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.
How Do I Let Off Fireworks?
With great care at all stages...
- 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 the spectators.
- For lighting display type fireworks, a device called a Portfire is often provided by the manufacturer. Use portfires when available and always light fireworks at arm's length. Keep portfires 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.
Must I Have A Bonfire?
NO. 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 clear up.
- Don't site it too near to 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 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.
And 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.
- Bonfire needs to be put out completely.
- Gather spent firework cases.
- Clear the site and ensure it is safe for people and animals to use again.
Gathering Spent Fireworks
- With a torch, use tongs or some other suitable tool, and wear strong gloves.
- Don't allow any children to to collect firework cases.
- Burning the spent cases is potentially dangerous and should be done with great care only after all of 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 Brigade for advice.
- Aerial shells should be doused in a bucket of water, then buried deep in the ground.
Finally, empty all the litter bins, remove any other rubbish, take down all your signs and leave the site as clear as possible and completely safe. You might want to go back the next morning to check everything in daylight.
If any outside organisations are present at your display - Fire Brigade, Police, First Aid etc. - don't forget to 'sign-off' with them at the end of the evening.
What Can I Do In Advance?
As much as possible! As well as liaising with the local authority, Police, Fire Brigade and first aid organisation, 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. 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, 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 will 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 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.