Judging a Firework Display Plus HSE


First appeared in Fireworks (magazine) Summer 2016

The first six months have been pretty much non-stop for me this year. I think the Editor has had to print a few extra pages so we can fit this all in! This year started with an invitation to a launch event for a major new HSE strategy. Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Explosives Dr Richard Daniels had nominated me to be an invited guest at the launch of HSE’s new strategy to Help Great Britain Work Well. HSE was gathering a thousand or so people who were ‘influential’ within their industries to help share their new plans and direction across the country. Speakers included the Chairman of the Health and Safety Executive, Dame Judith Hackitt, Chief Executive Richard Judge, the Minister responsible for HSE Justin Tomlinson MP, HSE Communications Director Selvin Brown MBE and various key figures from industry. It was quite a surreal event.


hse and judging a firework show

On my table we had one of the heads of the Financial Conduct Authority, a leader from a nurses union, a representative from building surveyors, a head of one of the theatrical organisations amongst many others. Why were we there though? HSE are undergoing one of the biggest strategy changes in their history. What it comes down to is this. The UK is really good at safety now. We get it. Our accident rates are amongst the best in the world and certainly at levels at which continuing efforts to get better will result in little improvement in what we already do. In terms of health though, we’re not so good. We’re not as good at tackling ill health and getting people back to work. The new strategy focuses on six themes: acting together, tackling ill health, managing risk well, supporting small employers, keeping pace with change and sharing our success. You can find out more here: http:// www.hse.gov.uk/strategy/ - I encourage you to take a look.

Andy at HSE.jpg

It was encouraging to hear Dame Judith talk about cutting red tape further and HSE being less of a burden on industry. I know many of you in the firework industry would like to see that play out into your interactions with the Executive (and the bills you receive!) It was a very high tech launch event and included a live stream of tweets from delegates using the correct hashtag. These were projected real-time in massive writing onto a big screen that all could see. Everything was going well until apparently someone ‘hacked’ it and you can guess the kind of messages that then started to appear! Six weeks or so later I was delighted to then receive a further invitation from HSE, this time to a reception being held at the Cabinet Office in Whitehall, to celebrate the launch of the new strategy and to toast Dame Judith Hackitt who was leaving HSE after 7 years as chairman. Apparently, a small representative selection of 200 individuals from across the country who had been to the launch events had been invited back for the celebration. I was the only person from British fireworks. It was a real honour to be invited and to share in HSE’s good food, wine and Dame Judith’s champagne! It was also a little amusing. I broke my leg the previous month in a small accident and was at the Cabinet Office in plaster cast and crutches (if you can call that amusing!) HSE looked after me very well and got me a chair near the front of the main function room. A chair sat right next to Dame Judith - she sat opening her leaving presents next to me and seemed almost moved to tears.

The HSE staff are terrible though - almost as bad as Brigadier Charles Smith of EIG who is renowned for keeping your glass of wine topped up at lunch for meetings! Here though at the Cabinet Office, I’m convinced HSE were trying to get me drunk!! Fortunately, it was a few more weeks until I was driving.Whilst I’m talking about HSE, not only would I like to thank the ‘Chief’ for kindly inviting me to the initial strategy launch event, which then lead to the Cabinet Office invitation, but, I would also like to thank Richard Daniels for HSE’s change of approach on classification. Back in October 2015 I attended an Explosive Industry Forum meeting on behalf of the BPA where I brought up the real concerns of our industry over HSE’s 5-year expiry for classifications (compared to non-expiry whenissued by some other European Competent Authorities - and in fact, that’s how it always used to be at HSE). The 5-year expiry was really starting to bite, particularly where the original applicant was no longer in business. People with the original product still in stock after 5 years faced breaking the law and no hope of rectifying the matter because they didn’t have the product technical details. It was also a heavy administrative burden on CAD holders, and probably on the Explosives Inspectorate too. It was fantastic news to hear that as as part of a review, Richard has changed expiry from 5 years to 10 years. That is a very good move and thank you Richard and colleagues for listening to our calls.

As if breaking my leg wasn't enough news, I do have some other personal news for you. In March 2016 I concluded my second term as BPA chairman. Normally the chair sits for a term of 2 years, and our members persuaded me to do a third year from 2015-16. I’d already been chair between 2008-2010, so 2013-2016 as well seemed enough and a good opportunity to allow someone else to take the reigns. I’m really pleased to tell you that Cliff Stonestreet of a company called Fully Fused Fireworks is your new chairman at the BPA, I wish him all the very best as he steers us through an interesting time in fireworks.

I will though be continuing on the BPA Management Committee and continuing in particular my work representing UK fireworks display interest on the Pyrotechnic Articles Liaison Group. I also can now share with you my election onto the Council of the Institute of Explosives Engineers. Becoming a Council Member is a real honour, the standards and example that the professional firework display industry has set are an excellent example for the rest of the explosives sector to study and in potentially replicate. I’m honoured to be the firework representative on Council and look forward to strengthening our role within the Institute.

You may have heard that a group concerned with animal welfare launched a petition on the government website proposing restrictions on the periods when members of the public could let off fireworks, to just a few weeks per year. With over 100,000 signatures, the petition has been selected for a debate in Westminster on 6th June 2016. Industry representatives including myself met at the Department for Business, Innovations and Skills in May to make sure that industry’s position is put forward to the Minister, who will close the debate. The retail firework industry has a lot to say in its favour. It was the industry that introduced a voluntary ban on the import and sale of bangers, air bombs and mini-rockets before the government could formalise with legislation. The withdrawal of these tools of the hooligans from the sales counters lead to an almost instant reduction in the nuisance factor that had been rightly or wrongly associated with consumer fireworks. Legislation then introduced decibel limits on the sound levels that fireworks could produce. Industry has always engaged closely with government (where other industries don’t), and has always tried to take a responsible approach to retail sales. One example is the close association the industry had with the Blue Cross helping to promote ways to keep pets calm over fireworks night. To say that things have got out of control and something needs to be done just doesn’t sit with the facts in my opinion.

Moving to the display side, and we have been fighting our own battles over the ‘own use’ interpretation. I remain absolutely convinced that the UK is correct and that fireworks imported by a display operator for their own use are outside of the scope of the Directive, and therefore do not need to undergo a conformity assessment or have a CE mark applied. On 10th June, Dr Tom Smith and I from the BPA will give a presentation to the pyrotechnics working group at the European Commission in Brussels, where we will attempt to seek agreement that the UK position is correct.


Finally, on a more light-hearted note, in April I had the honour of being invited to judge the 10th Malta Mechanised Ground Fireworks Festival held in Floriana, Malta.

Malta is world-renowned for producing some of the most beautiful fireworks available. Most of the larger villages throughout Malta and Gozo each have their own fireworks factory. Volunteers from the local community give their time and money to produce hand-made, high-quality fireworks which will be let off in honour of the local village’s annual feast. The yearly feast can span almost a whole week and will often see fireworks several nights in a row. No-one is paid to make the fireworks and none are for sale. Each and every one is a labour of love, made to the highest specification with the most incredible range of features. The Maltese are well know for their multi-break shells, some of them standing almost as tall as the person who made them! They are also known for their incredible mechanised fireworks - huge wheels or structures that are mechanically driven entirely by fireworks.

For the competition, twelve factories were taking part, each entering two mechanical fireworks. The largest was a wheel with a diameter of over 50 metres! The structures all take on different styles - some are pure wheels, others have some spinning and some static elements. Others are 3D and others still are chains of lances, thousands of them, that are pulled around a series of cogs making an incredible sight - especially when they suddenly change direction!

We were put up in a wonderful hotel and enjoyed a 5-star meal each evening. I stayed on the island for 5 nights, which included three days of judging responsibilities under the supervision of chairman Michael Brockd

Andy Hubble