Plan ahead for Guy Fawkes displays

By Poppleston Allen

- Last updated on GMT

Safe distance: as well as a firing area, you'll need to designate a zone for falling fireworks and a spectator area
Safe distance: as well as a firing area, you'll need to designate a zone for falling fireworks and a spectator area

Related tags: Fireworks, Guy fawkes night

Legal experts Poppleston Allen advises operators on the rules around firework and bonfire displays.

I recently advised a publican on giving a fireworks display on Guy Fawkes Day. Firework displays should be enjoyable occasions but they need responsible planning as, under health and safety legislation, you as the holder of the display are responsible for the event.

One person should have overall control for safety and planning the event. If your staff are assisting with the display, ensure your employer’s liability insurance is in order and give consideration to any public liability insurance.

The illegal use of fireworks can lead to a substantial fine and/or prosecution, and it is against the law to set off fireworks between 11pm and 7am, except on 5 November (cut-off midnight), New Year’s Eve, Diwali and Chinese New Year (cut-off 1am). Your local council may have additional rules though, so check with them.

Ensure there is a suitable external area for the display as you will need to designate a firing area, a safety zone where the falling fireworks will land (free from obstructions, well away from the car park and other buildings), and a spectators’ area. Also consider how people will access the area, lighting, exit routes, and ensure there is sufficient space to avoid overcrowding. Make sure fire extinguishers, blankets, water and sand are all easily accessible, and ensure you have sufficient stewards/helpers for the number of spectators you anticipate will attend.

All staff/helpers involved should be briefed on their responsibilities and clearly identifiable at the event (for example, wearing hi-vis clothing) and particularly your first-aider(s), who should have the necessary first-aid and fire-fighting equipment at hand.

Provided the fireworks are only categories 1, 2 and 3 (indoor fireworks, garden fireworks and display fireworks, the largest fireworks on retail sale) you can light these yourself. Category 4 fireworks, however, can only be used by professional firework display operators and are not available to the general public. Store fireworks in the box in which they were purchased or a suitable metal box. The firer(s) should carry a torch and whistle, and use a portfire/fuse which is supplied with the fireworks (not normal matches or a lighter).

Also ensure you notify your local authority, fire officer and police along with (where relevant) St John’s Ambulance, local hospitals, airports, coastguards, as well as informing your neighbours.

If you plan to selling alcohol during the event, any bar should be placed well away from the display site. Spectators should be discouraged from taking drinks, or bringing their own drinks or fireworks, on to the display site.

Finally, think about what could go wrong and draw up a plan to deal with contingencies such as stopping the display early, altering the site layout or cancelling it due to adverse weather conditions, dealing with injured persons, or a fire started by firework debris. After the display, carefully check and clear the site and dispose of fireworks safely.

The Health & Safety Executive website has more extensive guidance on firework displays which can be accessed online.

Related topics: Licensing law

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