Organised Bonfire Events
If you are organising a fireworks display that the public can attend, you have certain obligations to them and to your staff or helpers. This guide should answer most of your questions, but note that the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 has requirements that apply to public or semi-public displays, and some of these in your particular circumstances may not be covered here.
Where do I begin?
Running a display takes a lot of work over a long period of time, so try to share the load by planning ahead and setting up a committee whose members can each take responsibility for a particular task (including one person to be in charge of all safety arrangements).
Make it clear who will do what - and when - and be sure that each member has a copy of this guide and will follow its advice carefully.
If possible, try to recruit at least one person with previous experience of firework displays.
Firework safety code
Adults should only let off fireworks in their own garden and they should follow the firework code:
- Only buy fireworks marked BS 7114.
- Don’t drink alcohol if setting off fireworks.
- Keep fireworks in a closed box.
- Follow the instructions on each firework carefully.
- Light them at arm’s length using a suitable taper.
- Stand well back.
- Never go back to a lit firework.
- Never put fireworks in your pocket.
- Never throw fireworks.
- Light sparklers one at a time and wear gloves.
- Never give sparklers to children under five.
- Keep pets indoors.
There is further useful advice:
- If you are using sparklers, have a bucket of water nearby. When sparklers have gone out they should be put in the water. Water can also be used for immediate first aid treatment for burns to the hand.
- Do not throw discarded fireworks onto bonfires. Some spent fireworks still have powder left in them and other fireworks which have not gone off still contain all their explosives.
Make sure you wear the right clothing. Always wear gloves, especially when holding sparklers. Do not wear nylon clothing such as shell suits, which melt against the skin. Do not wear open-neck T-shirts, shirts or shorts that expose bare skin to the danger of fireworks. Tuck scarves in, rather than letting them trail, so they don’t catch alight.
Alcohol and fireworks
People drink alcohol at 90% of fireworks parties in back gardens. In a survey, 84% of respondents said that people setting off fireworks had drunk at least 2-3 units of alcohol. This increases the risk of injury and makes adults less able to supervise children properly during the display.
- Never drink alcohol if you are setting off fireworks or attending a bonfire.
- Nominate people who are not drinking alcohol to take charge of late-night fireworks displays.
- Keep guests who are drinking alcohol well away from fireworks and the bonfire.
- Consider limiting the availability of alcohol until after the fireworks display.
- Do not carry fireworks in your pocket to street parties or celebrations.
- The clear message is that alcohol and fireworks don’t mix.
Safety at fireworks and bonfire displays
This advice comes from several fire services. It is primarily for organisers of public and semi-public events but may also be useful for smaller events such as small fairs.
Set up an organising committee and give each member responsibility for particular tasks. A suitable trained person should be in charge of the safety arrangements. Make sure you have adequate insurance to cover personal injury and damage.
Any stalls or other traders on site should have their own insurance.
You should give details of the event (place, date, time) to:
- the local fire and rescue service;
- the police;
- the local council (Environmental Health Services or Licensing officer);
- an appropriate first aid organisation;
- the local media; and
- local residents, farmers, etc who may be affected by the bonfire party.
- The display should start and finish at the advertised times.
Choose a clear, well-mown space not less than 25 metres from buildings, trees, wooden fences, overhead cables, car parking areas or other fireworks displays. Where there is less space, such as in a pub garden, the organiser should consult the fire authority. Allow at least 50m by 20m for your firing area and a dropping zone for spent fireworks of 100m by 50m in the downwind direction. Keep spectators at 25m back on the opposite side to the dropping zone.
The site needs a suitable entrance for emergency vehicles. All entrances should be well lit and wide enough for spectators. You should also cater for disabled spectators. Car parking should be well away from the display area and dropping zone and upwind of the display. Signpost the car park clearly and do not permit parking elsewhere.
You need to make safe any nearby combustible materials, such as stacks of timber, hay and straw. The direction of the wind is important, as the bonfire must not blow towards spectators or combustible materials.
The local fire service can advise on adequate fire-fighting equipment, which could include:
- water fire extinguishers;
- a hose (if mains water supply is available);
- buckets of water or sand;
- fire beaters; and
- a fire blanket.
The usual ratio is one steward to every 250 people present, but more stewards may be needed to cover each entrance and exit. They may need special training, such as in using the fire-fighting equipment. They should also do the following:
- act as car park attendant;
- provide information;
- monitor the bonfire area;
- keep spectators behind barriers;
- ensure that nothing is thrown onto the bonfire and that it does not spread;
- manage the public (particularly if alcohol is allowed);
- call and liaise with the emergency services;
- collect rubbish;
- clear up; and
- check that the bonfire is extinguished.
Stewards should be over 18 years of age. Fluorescent jackets make them easily identified. They should know who is in charge of the event and have a means of contacting them, such as a two-way radio. They should be aware of the location of telephones. They remain until the event is over and ensure that the site is safe. Committee members and stewards should all have torches, so check that you have plenty of batteries. Use pre-arranged coded signals, audible throughout the site, to warn the stewards when an emergency has developed.
- You can seek advice from the police about over-crowding. Make sure your stewards know what to do in an emergency and that they have practiced safety drills.
- Spectators must not enter the display area. Put up clear signs and stop the display if anyone does come inside the area.
- Spectators should be able to move away freely from smoke, sparks and heat without being trapped by the crowd.
- Fireworks and alcohol do not mix. None of the organisers should have alcoholic drinks.
- Do not allow spectators to bring their own fireworks, even sparklers. Have signs explaining this at the entrances.
Letting off fireworks
- Involve as few people as possible. If possible, use people with experience of letting off fireworks.
- Do not allow your team to smoke at any time during the display.
- Keep fireworks well away from open fire, flames or flammable materials. They should be in a secure, closed box.
- Read all instructions before lighting any firework.
- The wind direction should be taken into consideration so that the display is angled away from spectators.
- Always light fireworks at arms length. Never use matches or lighters.
- Use Portfires or special lighting devices when they are provided by the manufacturers.
- Keep unused Portfires in a metal or wooden box and never carry them in pockets.
- You can also use safety lighters such as slow matches.
- Never go back to fireworks that do not go off. They could still be live and go off in your face. Half an hour is the minimum time to wait before approaching a firework again.
- Wind changes could make aerial fireworks fall among spectators. In very windy weather you should consider putting off the display.
Must I have a bonfire?
- No. They need a lot of organising and can be a hazard. Many displays are a great success without one.
- If, after careful consideration, you do decide to have a bonfire, make one person responsible for it, from early planning to final clearing up. Don’t site it too near your display area and never use flammable liquids like paraffin or petrol to get it going.
- Check immediately before lighting that there's no animal - or even a young child - hidden inside and don't light it at all until after all your fireworks have been let off.
- Never put fireworks on a bonfire, even if they’re dud and, don't burn dangerous rubbish like aerosols, tins of paint or foam-filled furniture.
In dry weather, damp down the bonfire site. Remove the top layer of turf and replace it when the site is cold. Any debris left over from preparing the site should be placed well away from the bonfire. Do not build bonfires on peat, as peat fires can spread underground and emerge some distance away.
The bonfire should not be lit before the fireworks display unless the display is sufficiently far removed.
Check before lighting that there are no animals or children hiding inside the bonfire.
Never use flammable liquids like paraffin or petrol to get it going.
Keep the height of the bonfire under six metres, preferably under three metres at semi-public events. Build it to collapse inwards as it burns.
A barrier at a distance of 11/2 times the bonfire's height will keep spectators far enough away. In strong winds flying brands from the bonfire will go further, in which case you must move the barrier further back.
Light damp bonfires with dry kindling such as newspaper, sacking, cardboard and empty wooden boxes or with domestic lighters. Fuses of long, twisted rags soaked in used engine oil or paraffin can be trailed from the inside of the bonfire to a lighting point outside it.
Do not burn dangerous rubbish such as: aerosols; batteries; bottles; foam-filled furniture; tins of paint; or tyres.
Supervisors should not leave the bonfire until they are certain it has been fully extinguished with water.
Safety during the display
Suitable clothing to be worn by all organizers and the public include overcoats made of wool or other material of low flammability, hoods, long trousers (worn over boots) and gloves. Long scarves should be tucked in.
If any emergency organisations are present at the display (fire service, police, first aid), the organiser should sign off with them at the end of the event.
The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974
Organisers of public or semi-public displays should be aware of the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, which places a responsibility on them to ensure the safety of both employees and members of the public.
And when it's all over?
- The work for you and your team doesn't finish when the last firework goes off. The spectators need to be escorted safely from the site, the bonfire needs to be put out completely and the spent fireworks cases need to be gathered.
- Do this gathering by battery operated torchlight with tongs or some other suitable tool, and wear strong gloves.
- Don't allow any children to collect firework cases. If any fireworks look as if they haven't gone off after at least half-an-hour, douse them in a bucket of water.
- Burning the spent cases is potentially dangerous and must be done with great care, only after all your spectators have gone. Aerial shells must be doused in a bucket of water, then buried deep in the ground.
- Finally, empty all the litter bins, remove any other rubbish, take down all your signs and leave the site as clear as possible - and completely safe. You might want to go back the next morning, to check everything in daylight.
- If any outside organisations are present at your display - Fire Service, Police, First Aid, etc. - don’t forget to 'sign off' with them at the end of the evening.
What can I do in advance?
- As much as possible! As well as liaising with the Local Authority, Police, Fire Brigade and First Aid organisation, you or your appropriate team member should: Arrange for your fireworks to be delivered and stored (and circulate the manufacturers' general instructions to your team). Arrange for you and your team to be trained in the various tasks for the night, including all emergency drills.
- Arrange for First Aid posts to be staffed by qualified people.
- Borrow or hire special clothing (bibs, jackets, etc.) to identify you and your team on the night.
- Arrange some form of public address system - as a safety measure, not just for commentary. A loud hailer will do as a bare minimum.
- Arrange for fire extinguishers, buckets of water, buckets of sand and metal litter bins to be available on the night.
- Check that plenty of torches will be available on the night, with fully charged batteries.
- Publicise the fact that spectators are not allowed to bring their own fireworks (including sparklers) and will not be admitted if they do so.
- Prepare all necessary signs.
- Make absolutely sure that you'll have enough people available on the night (including some cover for illness).
- Draw up a detailed checklist of tasks, and indicate on it who is to be responsible for each one.
Further information regarding firework safety can be found by visiting the following websites :
Organised Bonfire Events
A list of Bonfire Night Events in the area are posted in October.