Safety around the sparks

Safety around the sparks
Hallowe’en should be spent with family and friends, not in A&E, writes Colm Fitzpatrick


Hallowe’en is a highlight for many in the calendar year; the opportunity to dress up as your favourite superhero or ghoul, stay up late into the night, and eat an endless supply of sweets makes it a favourite among the kids. Adults too don’t shy away from the festivities. If you’ve managed to scarper from your responsibilities of tending to trick-or-treaters, then you’ll probably be at a party partaking in the celebrations.

There are usually a few common ingredients that make up a Hallowe’en party. Most are harmless games like apple bobbing, but others require much more caution. Bonfires and fireworks are the cause of most injuries on this spooky night where year on year accident and emergency departments fill up with victims of these pyrotechnic terrors.

In Northern Ireland alone in 2015, 15 people reported to an emergency care department with a firework-related injury, 13 of which were aged below 18. Most casualties get off lightly with a minor burn to the hand or arm, but others are less fortunate. With the tip of the innocent sparkler reaching heights of 1200C, it doesn’t take much imagination to think of what damage a bigger and more robust firework can cause.

“Each year many children and young people suffer terrible injuries caused by fireworks, including burns, loss of limbs and serious eye injuries,” a Garda spokesperson told this newspaper.

Given the danger that fireworks pose, it’s no wonder that most of them are illegal to own, resulting in severe criminal penalties for possession. There are four categories of fireworks, the least harmful being F1 and the most dangerous, F4. Examples include party poppers, throw-downs, Christmas crackers and some sparklers. Category F1 fireworks cannot be sold to anyone under the age of 12. For those who want to create firework displays, a valid license is needed.

Although the majority of fireworks are illegal, this deters few from setting up a display in the back garden as a party piece. This means that during Hallowe’en you will be very likely to encounter them in some shape or form.

So what actions can you take to avoid risk of injury to you, your family or friends? The firework safety code outlines some measures that can be implemented for you to have a safe Hallowe’en. These include:

  • store fireworks in a closed, metal box and take out one at a time
  • keep a bucket of water nearby
  • only buy fireworks marked with a CE mark – this shows that the firework meets the European safety standards which all fireworks must meet – a reputable shop will know this
  • follow the instructions on each firework – read by torchlight, don’t use a naked flame
  • light fireworks at arm’s length, using the taper provided
  • make sure everyone stands well back
  • don’t go back to a firework that is lit – even if it hasn’t gone off it could still explode
  • take care around open flames such as bonfires and barbecues – all clothes, even those labelled ‘low flammability’, can catch fire
  • light sparklers one at a time and wear gloves

The high consumption of alcohol associated with the party atmosphere doesn’t bode well with low-key explosives.”

Likewise, if attending a bonfire is on your to-do list this Halloween, make sure all children are supervised and that the fire can’t spread out from its designated area.

Acknowledging this advice around the handling of fireworks should go some way in ensuring that the festivities go off without a hitch, but there are other factors also at play that could make a huge difference to your safety this Halloween.

The high consumption of alcohol associated with the party atmosphere doesn’t bode well with low-key explosives. Even when handled while stone-cold sober, fireworks are still extremely perilous – so with the impaired judgement that is induced by your tipple of choice, handling fireworks will be recipe for disaster. For this reason, if you are encountering spirits this Halloween while working with fireworks, make sure they’re the non-alcoholic type.

Although prevention is always better that treatment, if you do find yourself or a child hurt badly by a firework, go to the hospital straight away. For less serious injuries, remove all clothing from the burned area, hold it under cold water for at least 10 minutes, and cover loosely with cling film once cooled.

It’s important to remember that firework misuse doesn’t just cause bodily harm, but also noise pollution and property damage.

It can be difficult to control how your teenagers will choose to spend their evening and they may well be exposed to many dangerous fireworks.”

“Apart from the risk of injury, fireworks can cause great distress and annoyance to elderly residents. They can set off intruder alarms, causing unnecessary extra demands on Garda resources. They can also cause great distress to family pets and animals. Finally, there always the possibility of outbreaks of fire in property if fireworks such as ‘rockets’ continue to burn after landing,” the Garda spokesperson explained.

It can be difficult to control how your teenagers will choose to spend their evening and they may well be exposed to many dangerous fireworks. In this vein, it’s vital to sit down and have chat with the whole family about the precautions that should be taken when facing them and what to do if things go wrong. If you find that your child is in possession of fireworks, it’s advised to confiscate them immediately.

”We ask that parents be responsible in ensuring that their children do not cause injury to either themselves or others on Hallowe’en night. If you discover that your children have possession of bangers/fireworks, please take them from them.”

{{Halloween is a night of spooks and chills – just make sure it’s scary for all the right reasons.”

If you do feel inclined to see some spectacular fireworks this Hallowe’en, try to avoid the back garden and instead go to a professional display. They take place all around the country, are family-friendly, and the danger is well out of distance. This way you’ll get the benefit of viewing some incredible visual delights all the while relaxed by the knowledge that you’re free from harm.

Hallowe’en is a night of spooks and chills – just make sure it’s scary for all the right reasons.

For more information about firework safety, see: