Officially, June and July are “Fireworks Safety Months.” Shouldn’t we also tack on the last weekend of May? After all, the Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer…and warm nights capped off with a finale of fireworks.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 7,000 people each year are treated in hospitals for injuries caused by fireworks. More than half those injuries occurred in children. Hands, fingers, and eyes are the body parts most likely injured. In addition, fireworks also caused home and motor vehicle fires—in 2008, about 22,500 fires were started by fireworks, resulting in about $42 million in property damage.
Why Do Injuries Occur?
According to the CDC, there are six main reasons why these injuries occur:
- Availability: In spite of federal regulations and varying state prohibitions, many types of fireworks are still accessible to the public. Distributors often sell fireworks near state borders, where laws prohibiting sales on either side of the border may differ.
- Fireworks type: Among the various types of fireworks, (some of which are sold legally depending on the state), bottle rockets can fly into the face and cause eye injuries; sparklers can ignite clothing (sparklers burn at more than 1,000°F); and firecrackers can injure the hands or face if they explode at close range.
- Close proximity: Injuries may result from being too close to fireworks when they explode; for example, when someone leans over to look more closely at a firework that has been ignited, or when a misguided bottle rocket hits a nearby person.
- Lack of physical coordination: Younger children often lack the physical coordination to handle fireworks safely.
- Curiosity: Children are often excited and curious around fireworks, which can increase their chances of being injured (for example, when they re-examine a firecracker dud that initially fails to ignite).
- Experimentation: Homemade fireworks (for example, ones made of the powder from several firecrackers) can lead to dangerous and unpredictable explosions.
Fireworks Safety Tips
According to The National Council on Fireworks Safety, the best safety tips are:
- Use fireworks outdoors only.
- Always have water handy–from a hose or bucket.
- Only use fireworks as intended. Don’t try to alter them or combine them.
- Never relight a “dud” firework. If the firework doesn’t light the first time, wait 20 minutes and then soak it in a bucket of water.
- Use common safety sense: Spectators should keep a safe distance from the shooter, and the shooter should wear safety glasses.
- Alcohol and fireworks do not mix. Have a “designated shooter.”
- Only persons over the age of 12 should be allowed to handle sparklers of any type.
- Do not ever use homemade fireworks of illegal explosives: They can kill you! Report illegal explosives to the fire or police department in your community.
- Obey local laws. If fireworks are not legal where you live, do not use them.
State laws vary widely: Under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission prohibits the sale of the most dangerous types of fireworks and the components intended to make them. The banned fireworks include various large aerial devices, M-80s, quarter-sticks, half-sticks and other large firecrackers. Any firecracker with more than 50 milligrams of explosive powder and any aerial firework with more than 130 milligrams of flash powder is banned under federal law, as are mail order kits and components designed to build these fireworks.
When it comes to preventing injuries, it is always safest to leave fireworks to trained professionals.
Want to hear more about fireworks safety? Listen to the CDC’s podcast here: Snap, Crackle, Pop: questions and answers about fireworks safety (If you don’t want to listen, you can read a transcript of the podcast at that same website.)