Fireworks are a popular form of evening entertainment, especially in the winter months with Bonfire Night and New Year’s Eve traditionally celebrated with a fireworks display.
Although it may be obvious to state, fireworks contain explosives which make them inherently dangerous objects and not toys. They need to be handled with care whether you’re buying, storing or selling them.
In this post, we’ll address a number of key issues relating to the safety of buying, storing and selling fireworks, including:
BS 7114 defines four categories for fireworks:
These categories are often confused with the hazard type assigned to fireworks with regards to their transportation and storage. Normally, there is an orange hazard diamond on the outer box to tell you the hazard type of the firework.
Consumer fireworks, also known as retail fireworks, are usually categorised as F2 or F3 and fall under Hazard Type 4 or Hazard Type 3 for storage. All fireworks on sale to the public have been extensively tested, have a noise limit imposed on them and have a safety fuse with clear instructions on the label.
Fireworks can be purchased all year round from licensed shops, but you must be over 18 years of age. Sparklers are classed as fireworks and it is illegal for anyone under 18 to buy fireworks or be in possession of fireworks in a public place.
During certain periods of the year, you can buy fireworks from registered sellers for private use:
Only buy fireworks that comply with European safety standards, carry the CE mark and are correctly labelled. Fireworks that complied with BS 7114 can no longer be supplied – only fireworks that are CE marked and have instructions for use in English can be sold. Also check that your fireworks are intact and undamaged.
Never buy fireworks from unlicenced outlets such as car boot sales, market stalls or anyone who knocks on your door. They could be illegal imports that haven’t been subjected to even the most basic safety testing. It’s your responsibility to ensure the safety of people lighting the fireworks and attending your display.
There is no legal requirement that a member of the public needs a licence or any training to buy consumer fireworks.
Similarly, contrary to popular misconception, there is no licence to purchase Category 4 (F4 or professional) fireworks. However, these are only available to professional fireworks companies with all-year insurance and licenced storage.
Although fireworks are typically reserved for certain ‘traditional’ or minority cultural periods, they can actually be let off any time of year and any day of the week. The only stipulation is that they must be let off after 7am but before 11pm.
However, there are exceptions to the 11pm rule:
Fireworks should only be let off on private land (e.g. your garden or land with the landowner’s permission). It is illegal to let fireworks off in the street or a public place (including the beach).
If you have purchased consumer fireworks, you don’t need to have a licence or any form of training to let them off. For larger, professional displays that have been insured, training – for example the British Pyrotechnists Association Professional Firers Training Scheme – may be a requirement of the underwriters.
Firework storage laws are governed by the Explosive Regulations 2014 (which replaced MSER: Manufacture and Storage of Explosives Regulations 2005). The necessity of a firework storage licence is based on the weight and hazard type of the fireworks as well as the duration of storage.
All storage quantities relate to the Net Explosive Content (NEC) of the firework which is not the same as the firework’s gross weight. The limits for storing fireworks without a licence are:
Hazard Type 4 (HT4)
Hazard Type 3 (HT3)
NOTE: Where there is a mix of HT4 and HT3 fireworks, they are treated as if they were all HT3.
If your firework storage will exceed the above limits in terms of time or NEC, or you want to store fireworks for commercial reasons (e.g. as a specialist retail store or online seller), you will need to apply for a storage licence.
Up To 2,000kg NEC
To run a wholesale or retail premises that store fireworks of up to 2,000kg NEC in England, Scotland and Wales, you must be licenced with:
More Than 2,000kg NEC
There are only certain times of the year that fireworks can be sold without a licence:
If you wish to sell outside of these specific times, you will need to have an all-year licence to sell fireworks which can either be obtained from your local council or local fire service by paying a fee of £500.
NOTE: You can be fined up to £5,000 and imprisoned for up to 6 months for selling or using fireworks illegally. You could also get an on-the-spot fine of £90.
Fireworks represent a health and safety risk to employees when you store and sell them. As a result, you have to complete a risk assessment identifying what might cause harm and the precautions you can take to prevent that harm. If you have fewer than five employees, you don’t have to write anything down.
There are three main questions you need to ask yourself:
You then need to think about the actions you need to take to:
The HSE has provided a checklist to help you carry out your risk assessment which you can find here.
The main things to remember when it comes to storing fireworks are:
If you don’t want to store them yourself, many retailers are happy to store your fireworks for you until closer to the time of your display.
In order to comply with the Explosive Regulations 2014, there must be sufficient safety measures in place to limit the extent of a fire or explosion.
The storage arrangements will need to be designed to prevent the spread of fire by fragments from the fireworks being thrown into flammable or combustible objects. This could involve:
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and subsidiary legislation covers firework displays and places duties in respect of the health and safety of everyone involved in arranging and giving the display.
The company and its senior management will be liable for any accident or incident that results from not following the preventative actions set out in the risk assessment.
For more information on buying, storing and selling fireworks safely, visit the government websites below: