Bonfire night: safety first

Related tags Bonfire night Guy fawkes night Fireworks

Over the years the injury toll on bonfire night has caused a move away from fireworks let off in the back garden to properly organised public...

Over the years the injury toll on bonfire night has caused a move away from fireworks let off in the back garden to properly organised public displays. Many pubs might be put off by by the fear that something might go wrong, but if you've got a large outdoor area and the time to properly plan the event you could be in for a very profitable night.

The Department of Trade and Industry has produced a guide for organisers of public displays to help them make it safe and successful. Here's a summary of the advice. For more go to

Plan ahead

  • Nominate a team to organise the event, if possible including someone who's had experience
  • Give the authorities plenty of warning. Contact the fire brigade, the police, a first aid service (eg St John's Ambulance), your local authority and (if you are within five miles of the coast) the coastguard
  • Warn neighbours and any local farmers who might have animals
  • Train your team in emergency drills and arrange for first aid posts to be staffed by qualified people. Make sure members of the team can be identified on the night by hiring fluorescent bibs or jackets
  • Set up a public address for safety messages - a loud hailer will do
  • Arrange for fire extinguishers, buckets of water and sand to be on hand, plus electric torches
  • When advertising the event tell people not to bring their own fireworks, not even sparklers. Have someone checking on the door
  • Prepare safety signs
  • Make sure you've got enough people working for you on the night
  • Draw up a checklist of tasks including who is responsible for each
  • Check you are properly insured.

The location

You will need the following space for the display area:

  • 50m x 20m for the firing area
  • 100m x 50m downwind for the dropping zone for spent fireworks
  • 25m upwind to be clear of spectators.

The area should be well away from buildings, trees and overhead cables and car parking should be upwind of the display. Entrances and exits should be clear of firing and dropping zones, well-lit, clearly sign-posted, free of obstruction and suitable for disabled access. Undergrowth and long grass must be cleared.

Crowd control

You will need one steward, wearing a fluorescent bib or jacket, for every 250 spectators, and they must stay until the site is cleared and made safe

  • Mark and sign the display area and keep spectators out. If they encroach, stop the display immediately
  • Keep to the capacity limit
  • Do not allow stewards to drink before or during the show.

The display

  • Make sure the display is angled away from spectators
  • Have as few people as possible actually involved with the fireworks and make sure one of them is experienced
  • Ban drinking or smoking by the team at any time during the display
  • Keep fireworks in a secure box and take them out only when they are going to be used. Handle them with care well away from the bonfire or any naked flame
  • Read instructions carefully by torchlight
  • If you are using display fireworks light them with a Portfire, often provided by the manufacturer. Other safety lighters, such as slow matches, are also available. Never use matches or cigarette lighters
  • Light all fireworks at arm's length
  • Allow half an hour before returning to any firework that doesn't go off
  • If it's windy, consider cancelling the display.

After the event

  • Clear spectators from the site
  • Put the bonfire out
  • Pick up spent firework cases using strong gloves
  • If you've any fireworks that haven't gone off, put them in a bucket of water.

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