Fireworks – the four levels of risk

This year the 5th of November marked the 414th anniversary of Guy Fawkes’ attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament. In preparation, millions of pounds was spent on fireworks, and large-scale firework displays to an expectant public took place around the country.

Organising the production and movement of fireworks (potentially dangerous explosives) requires extremely careful handling.

The manufacture and production of fireworks for the UK market is usually carried out abroad. The product’s explosive nature means it’s too risky to use machinery, so many hands-on skilled people are the preferred choice. Unfortunately, this has meant moving production overseas, where manual labour costs are cheaper and more readily available. Nonetheless, there’s still some small British companies making fireworks for use in theatre and film, with one of them specialising in providing fireworks for elaborate outdoor displays on a mammoth scale.

Storage
The correct and acceptable storage of fireworks is determined by the potential danger that they pose, and is categorised into four levels of risk:

Hazard Type 1: A mass explosion where an entire body of explosives ignites simultaneously.
Hazard Type 2: An explosive that presents a serious projectile hazard but not a mass explosion hazard.
Hazard Type 3: An explosive that emits considerable radiant heat, or will burn to produce a minor blast or projection hazard.
Hazard Type 4: An explosive that presents a low risk of ignition, and no significant blast or projection of fragments is expected. These are fireworks generally sold at retailers.

Without a licence, individuals and voluntary organisations can keep up to 50kg (net) of Hazard Type 4 for up to 21 days. For commercial displays, up to 100kg of Hazard Type 3 is allowed. Anything larger or more powerful will need a licence from the Local Authority; if you store or sell fireworks of up to 2,000kg of net explosive content (NEC), for example.

If you’re based in the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Tyne and Wear, South Yorkshire or West Yorkshire, or on Merseyside, a licence with the local fire service is compulsory. In some cases, firework purchasers may have to acquire a licence from the HSE (Health and Safety Executive).

Supply
When premises supply fireworks a risk assessment must be carried out to ensure fire is prevented and that people will be safe. You’ll need a licence either from your local council or fire service to sell fireworks, except at these specific times:
– Bonfire Night — from 15th October to 10th November
– New Years — from 26th December to 31st December
– Chinese New Year — from three days before the Chinese New Year up until the first day
– Diwali — from three days before the Diwali until the first day

Preparation is key
Bonfire Night is renowned for its spectacle and drama. Caught up in the excitement of it all, it’s easy to overlook the preparation needed for such a memorable night, and not just for the fireworks but also with regard to crowd control, food, entertainment, safety, contingencies…

Bonfire Night; a perfect example of how getting logistics right on the night, can ensure everything goes off with a bang!

Disclaimer: This article is for general discussion only. Firework purchasers and display organisers are responsible for researching and becoming versed in the law(s) and licensing regulations relating to firework purchasing, selling, storage, usage and disposal.