Bonfire and firework display safety

05 November 2018

Public firework displays are enjoyable and spectacular events. However, organisers need to ensure that they are safe occasions too.

Holding a sparkler

In many instances, there is no reason why you should not put on a fireworks display yourself. However, for larger displays or those involving more sophisticated pyrotechnics, it’s worth considering using the services of a professional firework display operator.

Before the event

  • Start planning as early as possible
  • Estimate the number of anticipated spectators
  • Decide who will be responsible for setting off the fireworks and if there will be a bonfire. 
You will then need to consider the following:
Inspect the display site
Ensure that the display site will be large and safe enough to accommodate:
 
  • The number of spectators
  • The fireworks to be used
  • Any changes in wind direction or strength
  • The bonfire (if you plan to have one).
Inspect the site in daylight-
Only make the final selection of a site after you (and the display operator if appointed) have inspected it in daylight to assess its suitability and check for obstructions, such as:
 
  • Trees
  • Adjacent buildings
  • Overhead power lines etc.
Make list of contacts
Make a list of who you need to contact before the display and keep in touch with them as your plans develop. This will include:
 
  • The police
  • The fire service
As well as others relevant to you (e.g. a local authority; local hospitals, care homes etc.).
Identify and provide adequate site facilities
Identify and provide adequate site facilities including:
 
  • Spectator exits
  • Emergency service routes
  • Physical barriers
  • Fire fighting facilities
  • Stewards
  • Public address equipment
  • First-aid facilities (including a qualified first-aider)
  • Litter receptacles
  • Car parking areas.
Draw up an emergency/contingency plan
Draw up an emergency/contingency plan detailing the arrangements for having to stop the display early or cancelling it due to:
 
  • Adverse weather conditions
  • Accidents
  • A bonfire that becomes out of control
  • A fire started by firework debris
  • Spectators in unsafe areas or their unruly behaviour
  • Public announcements
  • Communication between the display operator and those with responsibility in the event of an emergency.
Make adequate arrangements for clearing up
Make adequate arrangements for clearing up after the display safely, including:
 
  • Keeping danger areas free of spectators until they are safe
  • Checking the site for partly spent fireworks and other hazardous remains
  • Checking the site at first light to make sure it is safe etc.
Once you have plans in place for the site and location of the firework event, you should consider the following based on how you are going to run the event on the night.
When using a competent display operator

Ensure that they are competent by asking for details about what training and experience they have; their insurance cover; and references etc.

Once appointed, agree (and document) your respective areas of responsibility with them, particularly those for the safe transport and storage of fireworks before the display.

When setting the fireworks off yourself
If you decide to set the fireworks off yourself you will also need to:
 
  • Look after the fireworks properly before the display, storing them in their packaging in a secure, cool, dry place where there are no naked flames or other sources of ignition and no highly flammable substances
  • Transport them safely on the day of the display
  • Store them safely at the display site before use e.g. in a building or a closed metal or wooden container located in an area of the site not accessible to the public
  • Set them up in accordance with the detailed instructions provided by the manufacturer or supplier in a timely manner and in the designated firing area
  • Ensure there are an adequate number of competent firers, who will work to a prepared  firing plan if there are two or more of them
  • Only allow firers in the firing area, checking that they are wearing suitable clothing
  • Provide firers with a suitable means of communication and other necessary equipment (e.g. goggles, gloves, hearing protection, electric torch, whistle etc.)
  • Set the fireworks off as recommended by the manufacturers’ or suppliers’ instructions
  • Ensure that if any fireworks fail to go off properly they are dealt with safely.
When lighting a bonfire
If you plan to light a bonfire you will also need to:
 
  • Make one person responsible for it, from early planning to final clearing up
  • Correctly site the fire, locating it a safe distance from other areas, buildings, roads, railways and public rights of way; a safe distance from flammable or otherwise dangerous materials (e.g. petrol, fuel oil, liquefied petroleum gas), overhead electric power lines; and downwind of spectators
  • Prohibit the burning of dangerous rubbish (e.g. aerosols, rubber, paint tins, pressurised gas cylinders or foam-filled furniture etc.).  Materials producing light ash which could blow about, such as corrugated cardboard, are unsuitable for burning
  • Remove rubbish and other combustibles from the bonfire area in advance
  • Only allow the responsible person and designated helpers into the bonfire area. They should wear suitable clothing and know what to do in the event of an emergency
  • Immediately before lighting, check that the fire is stable and that there are no children or animals hidden inside
  • Ensure that there is a safe procedure for lighting the fire and that those responsible know not to use flammable liquids (e.g. paraffin, petrol) to get it going or put fireworks on to it, even if they’re dud.