Essential advice to help you mitigate risk and ensure a sparkling event, not a big bang…

Bonfire and firework events can be great fun for all the family, but poor planning can quickly turn them into a tragedy. If you’re hosting an event this month, please make sure you follow these essential tips.

Stage one – initial planning

• Assign one person to be responsible for each individual element of the event
• Create a timeline of who will do what, and when
• Publish details on a document and distribute to each team member
• Try to include at least 1 person with previous experience of working with a firework display
• Check if you need an explosives licence
• Remember that fireworks not marked with ‘Complies with BS 7114 Part 2 1988’ are only suitable for use by persons with specialist knowledge

Stage two – notifying relevant parties

• Obtain official guidance from the fire service and local authority and:
– Inform them, and the police, about the event
– Provide details of where people will be
– Provide details of emergency access arrangements
• If you’re within 5 miles of the coast also advise HM Coastguard
• If you’re near an airfield, notify the Civil Aviation Authority
• For larger events, arrange first aid presence by a local voluntary organisations

Stage three – further considerations

• Arrange for your fireworks to be delivered and stored securely
• Ensure manufacturers’ general and specific instructions are known to all your team.
• Warn neighbours, local farmers, stables and kennels etc in advance, so they can keep pets indoors and take other necessary precautions
• Have a back-up plan to cover unexpected eventualities, such as a key member of your team falling ill, bad weather, high winds etc.

Stage four – the MUSTS


• Have fire extinguishers, buckets of water, buckets of sand and metal litter bins available
• Make sure the whole team are practiced in the various tasks for the night, including all emergency drills
• Have qualified first aiders on site
• Ensure all team members have hi-vis bibs or jackets and fully charged torches on the night
• Have some form of public address system – for safety as well as commentary
• Provide clear signage to inform all guests were they can and CAN NOT go!

Stage five – location

Choose a large, clear and well-mown area free from obstructions, well away from any buildings, trees and hazards like overhead cables, with as many safe entrances and exits as possible. These must be away from the firing area and where the spent fireworks will fall.
Make sure all entrances are well lit, clearly signposted and kept free from obstructions and that you can cater properly for disabled spectators.
The display site needs to be large enough to cope with the types of fireworks to be used, a change in wind direction or strength, and the expected number of spectators.

As a minimum:

• Allow at least 50m x 20m for your firing area
• Beyond this you will need a clear dropping zone for spent fireworks of 100m x 50m in the downwind direction
• Spectators should be kept back on the opposite side to the dropping zone at least 25m from the firing area
Greater safety distances will be required for certain sizes or types of fireworks. Displays fired from unusual sites such as a roof of a building or a barge on a river may require different safety distances.

Stage six – crowd control

• Allow for at least one steward for every 250 spectators
• Ensure they stay working until the display is over and the site is cleared and made safe
• Spectators must NOT be allowed into your display area, or to bring and set off their own fireworks – if they do, or they encroach the safety zone, stop the display immediately.

Stage seven – the fireworks

• Have as few people as possible actually involved with the fireworks
• Plan the display in advance, make sure you know which fireworks are going to be let off and in what order
• Take the fireworks from a secure container only when they are to be let off – remember that they’re fragile and can easily be broken. Keep them in a closed secure box
• Unpack fireworks with great care and well away from any open fire, naked flame or flammable material
• Take great care at all times
• The wind direction should always be away from spectators and the display should also be angled away from them
• A sudden change of wind direction or strength 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
• Before lighting any firework, read the instructions on it carefully (by torchlight)
• To light display type fireworks use a Portfire device as provided by the manufacturer – as an alternative use other types of safety lighters, such as a slow match. Never use matches or lighters
• 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.

Stage eight – the bonfire

If you decide to have a bonfire, make one person responsible for it, from early planning to final clearing up, and make sure it’s the appropriate size for the space you have.
• Don’t site it too near your display or firework storage area
• Don’t site it anywhere near fences or trees
• Check immediately before lighting that there’s no animal or even a young child hidden inside
• Never use flammable liquids like paraffin or petrol to get it going
• Keep the area around the bonfire free of any rubbish that could burn
• Don’t burn dangerous rubbish (e.g. aerosols, gas cylinders, paint tins, foam-filled furniture, tyres and bottles) or materials such as corrugated cardboard that produce light ash, which could blow about
NEVER put fireworks on a bonfire, even if they’re dud
• Don’t try to burn spent firework cases
Stage nine – after the event

Remember that the event doesn’t finish when the last firework goes off. You still have to clear the site and ensure that the bonfire is completely out before leaving the site.

• Gather up spent fire work cases, use a torch to find them; be sure to wear gloves, they can remain extremely hot for a considerable time, or use a suitable tool – NEVER involve children
• If any look as if they haven’t gone off, leave them where they are and keep people away from them for at least half an hour.
• After the allotted time, pick them up with a suitable tool and place in a bucket of water
• Seek advice on how to dispose of them.

Although there may seem a lot to do, most of these steps are simply common sense.

Peninsula clients can obtain more detailed guidance, along with a firework display checklist, from their BusinessSafe Reference Library – plus their usual 24 access to our BusinessSafe Advice Line. Call us on 0844 892 2785.