Hawkins Wishes Everyone a Safe Bonfire Night

Remember, remember your safety precautions this fifth of November. Bonfire Night is once again upon us, a 413 year old celebration of a failed conspiracy by a group of provincial English Catholics to assassinate the Protestant King James I of England. The Observance of 5th November Act 1605 was drafted, which called for a public and annual thanksgiving for the failure of the plot. The law was repealed by Parliament on 25 March 1859, however we have continued to celebrate this date which has become synonymous with not only bonfires, but firework displays. Hawkins investigators Dr Richard J Fletcher of the Birmingham Office, and Wayne Manton of the Bristol Office, have taken their passion for chemical reactions sky-high. But should this kind of show be left to the professionals?

Every year, as the 5th of November approaches, small independent firework shops pop up, and there are even deals to be had in supermarkets nationwide. Fireworks can be dangerous, though, and can present a very real risk of either injury or fire if not handled with respect.

Hawkins Investigator Wayne Manton says, “Although the act of igniting an explosive for display purposes might well be inherently risky, when done safely accidents are incredibly rare.”

The ‘Firework Code’, a set of guidelines relating to the safe use of fireworks, has been in the public domain for many years, and it gives the following advice:

  • Plan your firework display to make it safe and enjoyable, and ensure it finishes before 11pm
  • Only buy fireworks which carry the CE mark, keep them in a closed box and use them one at a time
  • Read the instructions on the label, using a torch if necessary, to understand each effect
  • Only use fireworks that you can ensure meet the minimum safety distances
  • Ensure, where indicated, that the firework is correctly supported and cannot fall over.
  • Light the firework at arm's length with a taper and stand well back
  • Keep naked flames, including cigarettes, away from fireworks
  • Never return to a firework once it has been lit
  • Never put fireworks in pockets and never throw them
  • Direct any rocket fireworks well away from spectators
  • Never use an accelerant (e.g. petrol) on a bonfire
  • Make sure that the fire is out and surroundings are made safe before leaving
  • Always supervise children around fireworks
  • Keep pets safely indoors

Beyond this guidance, there are also legal requirements that must be considered:

  • Category 2 and 3 fireworks (i.e. those sold in shops to the general public) can only be purchased by people 18 years or older
  • Fireworks cannot be set off between 11pm and 7am, except on:
    • Bonfire Night, when the cut off is midnight
    • New Year’s Eve, Diwali and Chinese New Year, when the cut off is 1:00 am
  • You can only buy fireworks (including sparklers) from registered sellers for private use on these dates:
    • 15 October to 10 November
    • 26 to 31 December
    • 3 days before Diwali or Chinese New Year.
    • At other times you can only buy fireworks from licensed shops.
  • A breach of these laws could warrant a fine of up to £5,000 and imprisonment for up to 6 months.

But by far the safest and most enjoyable way to celebrate Bonfire Night is to attend an organised event. The number of professional and community-organised displays has increased, possibly for the reason that attendees can be safe in the knowledge that trained, insured professionals will razzle and dazzle them and their loved ones. You are also guaranteed to see larger fireworks that are not available to the general public.

Richard Fletcher states, “Fireworks represent a raw example of chemistry in action. The deflagration of the gunpowder combined with metal salts, and indeed a good deal of artistry, creates the wonderful spectacle of sound, light and colour that captivates us.” So find your local display and get your “oohs” and “ahhs” at the ready.

To read more about how fireworks are made, and enjoyed, from a mechanical engineer’s point of view, take a look at Wayne Manton’s previous article: The Science Behind the Show

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