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Senior Loss Prevention Consultant, Property, Canada, AXA XL

Legend has it that fireworks were first used in China more than 2,000 years ago to frighten away evil spirits and as an expression of happiness and prosperity. The invention of the firecracker is credited to a Chinese monk named Li Tian who lived about 1,000 years ago near the city of Liu Yang in Hunan Province. This area remains the largest producer of fireworks anywhere in the world, and people across China still celebrate the invention of the firecracker every April 18th by setting off fireworks and offering sacrifices to Li Tian.

Today, fireworks are a common element all over the world during important occasions or festivals. Many countries mark seminal events in their country’s history with fireworks displays – the 4th of July, Bastille Day, Bonfire Night, 16th of September in Mexico, German Unity Day. For Hindus around the world, Diwali would not be complete without fireworks. And lighting fireworks is now a global tradition when it’s time to say farewell to the old year and greet the new one.

Professional fireworks displays are awe-inspiring and can generate deep personal feelings of wonder, excitement and surprise. Professional displays are also quite safe – incidents of injuries and/or property damage during professional fireworks shows are rare.

A big reason they are quite safe is that most countries have extremely rigorous safety standards and regulations concerning public fireworks displays. And the professionals staging these events are well aware that working with substantial quantities of explosive materials is inherently dangerous – to themselves and to the viewing audience. So they take extreme precautions, and are well-prepared in the event something goes wrong.

Celebrating safely

Although professional fireworks displays seldom cause injuries and/or property damage, incidents are unfortunately common when “amateurs” light off fireworks, including firecrackers. On holidays around the world when many people are setting off fireworks, local fire departments and emergency rooms know they are likely to be busy. For example, far more fires are reported in the U.S. on the 4th of July than on any other day of the year, and fireworks account for 40 percent of these fires, more than any other cause.

So if you’re planning to welcome the New Year, or any other occasion, with a DIY fireworks celebration, some simple, basic precautions are in order.

First, check to confirm that fireworks are allowed in your area – they are outlawed in some places, and their use can be restricted during dry weather conditions. If they generally can be used legally, keep these safety tips in mind:

  1. Buy only legal fireworks that have a label with the manufacturer's name and directions; illegal ones are unlabeled.
  2. Know your fireworks; read the cautionary labels and performance descriptions before igniting.
  3. Store fireworks in a cool, dry place.
  4. Never try to make your own fireworks.
  5. Alcohol and fireworks are a bad mix. Always have a sober adult in charge.
  6. Always use fireworks outside in a clear area keeping away from buildings and vehicles, as well as from brush, leaves and flammable materials.
  7. Have a bucket of water and a hose nearby in case of accidents.
  8. Keep spectators at a safe distance.
  9. Don't have any part of your body over them while lighting.
  10. Wear eye protection.
  11. Light one firework at a time, and not in glass or metal containers.
  12. Never throw or point fireworks at someone, even in jest.
  13. Never relight a dud.
  14. Avoid carrying fireworks in your pocket – the friction could set them off.
  15. Children should never play with fireworks. If you give kids sparklers, make sure they keep them outside and away from the face, clothing and hair. Sparklers can reach 1,800°F (982°C) – hot enough to melt gold.
  16. Don't allow kids to pick up pieces of fireworks after an event. Some may still be ignited and can explode at any time.
  17. Soak used fireworks in a bucket of water before throwing them in the trash can.
  18. Think about your pet. Animals have sensitive ears and can be extremely frightened or stressed by fireworks. Keep pets indoors to reduce the risk that they'll run loose or get injured.

(Sources: American Pyrotechnics Association, and XL Catlin’s Property Risk Engineering team, GAPS.)

Fireworks are a bit of a contradiction. They can add a celebratory dimension to many different occasions, and help make an event friendly and fun. They are also inherently dangerous. And a friendly, fun event quickly becomes less so if a trip to the emergency room or a call to the fire department is needed. So if you plan to celebrate with fireworks, taking some basic precautions will help ensure the event remains friendly and fun, and not tragic.


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