Safety considerations for firework events and historical incidents

Firework events are an ever popular form of public entertainment that aren’t solely restricted to Guy Fawkes night.

More and more events are taking place throughout the year and can coincide with national or local public events organised by local government, sporting associations, festival/concert organisers and corporate bodies.

Pyrotechnics and fireworks can be dangerous and can cause serious injuries. You can reduce the likelihood of  injuries by engaging a competent fireworks provider, well versed with the type of event you are planning and in the type of venue (indoors or outdoors) you are staging the event. Competent safety assistance, with experience and training in firework safety, should be engaged to assist with the safety management of your event as they will be familiar with the idiosyncrasies which accompany fireworks and mass crowds.

As stated by HSE website (United Kingdom):

“The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and subsidiary legislation covers firework displays which involve a work activity (ie where at least one person will be involved on a professional basis). This legislation places duties in respect of the health and safety of everyone involved in arranging and giving the display, the spectators and other people near the display site.”

What are the safety considerations for Firework events?

Fireworks by their very nature are dangerous. Rockets filled with explosive powder pose a risk not just in their use, but also their storage. Displays that are attended by the public require a high standard of planning to reduce significant hazards posed to a tolerable level. This must be carried out by professionals who have the necessary skills, training and experience to enable the hazards to be identified and relevant control measures implemented.

During the planning phase of a fireworks event the first safety considerations should be;

  • Event location
  • Event design brief (for fireworks)
  • Projected audience attendance
  • Size of fireworks display
  • Prevailing winds
  • Minimum safe distances
  • Event duration
  • Firing zones
  • Means of firing
  • Fallout area
  • Nearby temporary structures and other premises
  • Traffic routes
  • Airports
  • Nearby animals (zoos, farm stock, stables etc)

Reasons behind the location being the first safety consideration are the minimum safe distance and prevailing winds. These become an even more important safety consideration when a bonfire is burned during a display, due to smoke, heat, overhead power lines and highways. This was highlighted by the 2011 M5 motorway crash that killed 7 people and injured 51 people, later resulting in the person who’d organised the event being charged with failing to ensure the safety of others under the Health and Safety at Work Etc 1974 Act.

Even though the organiser was found not guilty, the coroner later concluded that the accident was caused by dense fog and that smoke from fireworks may have been a contributory factor.

To enable the organiser to fully deal with the challenges mentioned above, a specific risk assessment and fire risk assessment needs to be undertaken.

Event safety assessments are best performed by competent persons, who consider the event in its entirety, others that may be affected, be proportionate to the risk and specific and not simply focused on one area, such as the fireworks.

What should you consider when planning firework display?

Always make sure you’re fully prepared. Here are just a few things to consider:

  1. Contact a competent fireworks provider that specialises in your type of event. They can provide you with a wealth of advice that may assist you with site layout and design.
  2. Engage competent safety assistance from the outset, to assist you with your legislative requirements and to provide an outline of resources that will be required to ensure a safe, successful and well managed event.
  3. Contact the local authority
  4. Decide if the event is to be a free or ticketed event
  5. Agree an occupant capacity and have contingencies in place in the event that more people arrive.
  6. To keep the animals in the neighbourhood safe, warn the neighbours, local farmers and local business about the event and advise them to keep their pets indoors during the event
  7. Arrange for suitable and sufficient levels of first aid, event security/stewarding and fire cover by competent providers
  8. Ensure a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment outlines the requirement for  extinguishers, water buckets and sand available at all times
  9. Make it clear that spectators aren’t allowed to bring their own fireworks to the event
  10. Prepare all necessary signage to be site specific and erected for all spectators to be able to see and above all, understand.
  11. Ensure you have enough staff working during the event to manage crowds in normal and emergency conditions
  12. Prepare a list of tasks and make specific people responsible for each task
  13. Vet any traders you agree to allow on the site
  14. Make sure all entrances are well lit, clearly signposted and kept clear of obstructions
  15. Conduct a pre-event safety checklist and monitor the event for incident management

Stay in Control

Crowd safety at firework displays is imperative and requires good planning. Staff levels should be based on various factors and not reliant on ratios. Stewards should be well versed with mass crowds, easy to identify and have effective command and control to manage foreseeable incidents and emergencies on site.

You will also need to ensure that your staff are trained, briefed and well versed with events. Contingency plans should be in place, and prevent spectators, and other persons who may have accessed the site with wrong intentions, to enter the firing or display areas.

Here at Crowd Safety we can assist you with your planning for a safe and successful firework display, in the UK and/or Abroad, on the water, land, indoors, outdoors, on the roof of a stadium or any other place which suits your needs

Contact us for more details.