Fireworks law in the United Kingdom
This article's factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date information. In particular: BS regulations were fully superseded by European CE regulations. (November 2017)
Fireworks in the UK are governed primarily by the Fireworks Regulations 2004 (under powers delegated from the Fireworks Act 2003), the Pyrotechnic Articles (Safety) Regulations 2015, and British Standards BS 7114 until 4/7/17 and BS-EN 15947-2015.
BS 7114 defines four 'categories' for fireworks.
Fireworks available to the public
Otherwise, all fireworks, since 1997, must comply with BS7114, and be marked accordingly and fall into one of the following three categories:
- Category 1 ("indoor") fireworks are for use in extremely restricted areas.
- Category 2 ("garden") fireworks must be safely viewable from 5 metres away, and must scatter no debris beyond a 3-metre range.
- Category 3 ("display") fireworks must be safely viewable from 25 metres away, and must scatter no debris beyond a 20-metre range.
Under BS14035, there are also now Category 2 fireworks that require a longer distance of 8 metres, providing potentially better effects than 5 metre fireworks but without the fallout of Category 3 fireworks.
It is not illegal for a firework to be set off at less than the minimum safely viewable distance; however, in the event of any injury to a spectator, the firer might be liable if the distance was too short.
A Category 3 firework will contain no more than 1 kg net explosive content in the case of combinations and fountains, except for fountain combinations, which can contain up to 3 kg of net explosive content.
- Category 4 ("professional") fireworks are for sale only to fireworks professionals. They have no restrictions, and this is the default category for any firework which has not been tested to confirm that it should be in one of the lower categories.
The law considers a firework professional to be someone employed in a business that fires fireworks, such as a firework display outlet, or a stagehand. In practice, most stores[according to whom?] that sell Category 4 fireworks do ask for proof of training; most[according to whom?] category 4 professionals are trained under the British Pyrotechnists Association Professional Firers Training Scheme, although equally legitimate professional competency courses, recognised under current legislation, are provided by some commercial organisations such as Illuminate Consult. Company directors are liable under the Health and Safety at Work Act for the safety of their employees, and prosecutions have occurred.
- Mortar Shells: all fireworks of the "aerial shell"/"mortar shell" type, which launch single, large projectiles into the air where they explode to create effects - are Category 4. This was as a result of the deaths in 1996 of Stephen Timcke and David Hattersley, who were killed by mortars on successive nights.
- Mini-rockets, bangers, firecrackers, fireworks of erratic flight (including jumping fireworks) were banned in 1997.
- In 2004 the definition of mini-rocket was further restricted, and airbombs were also banned, in an effort to stop anti-social behaviour involving fireworks.
In terms of transport and storage, fireworks with a 'minor blast hazard', UN Category 1.3g are distinguished from those without that hazard, namely UN category 1.4g. Fireworks containing more than 25 grams of flash powder will be in category 1.3g, and many fall into Category 3, legal for public sale; however the cost of complying with storage regulations means that retailers may choose not to sell 1.3g fireworks.
Consumers may hold up to 5 kg NEC 1.4G fireworks for personal use for an unlimited time and 50 kg NEC up to 21 days. For 1.3G fireworks, 5 kg can also be kept for an unlimited time and up to 100 kg for 5 days. Any amount of either 1.3g or 1.4g may be held for up to 24 hours. If storing for longer periods, a license is required if storing more than 5 kg NEC (Net Explosive Content).
Restrictions on sale
Except for specially licensed year-round firework shops, fireworks are only for sale for Chinese New Year and three days prior, Diwali and three days prior, from 15 October to 10 November (for Guy Fawkes Night), and from 26 to 31 December (for New Year). Typically supermarkets and other general retail outlets sell fireworks in the October–November period and for new year, but do not sell at the other periods in most areas.
Using or buying fireworks illegally can result in a £5,000 fine or imprisonment for up to 6 months.
Restrictions on use
Fireworks must not be let off between 11pm and 7am, except on Chinese New Year, Diwali and New Year's Eve, when the period is extended until 1am, and on Guy Fawkes Night, when the period is extended until midnight.
It is illegal to set off fireworks (including sparklers) in the street or public place. Section 28 of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 prohibits setting off, or throwing fireworks in the street. Breaking these laws can result in an on-the-spot fine of £90.
It should also be borne in mind that the regulations are different in Northern Ireland, where any purchase or use of fireworks requires a licence (this includes personal, back garden displays).
Accidents and safety campaigns
In the UK, the most common injuries are burns from hand-held fireworks such as sparklers. People are also injured by projectiles fired from fireworks, often due to incorrect use. Other issues include the dangers of falling rocket sticks, especially from larger rockets containing metal motors.
"Shock" adverts were used in the 1970s and 80s in an attempt to restrict injuries from fireworks, targeted at young people.
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