Fireworks Safety

Fireworks entertain millions of people and add sparkle to events throughout the year. They are often enjoyed at sporting events, weddings, and concerts. Yet, traditionally, fireworks are most often used in the United States to celebrate the Fourth of July. Large fireworks displays occur in communities across the country, and some families ignite fireworks in their yards. While lighting fireworks at (or close to) home may seem like a fun activity for the whole family, thousands of people experience serious injuries from fireworks-related incidents every year. Many times, the people who get hurt in these incidents are bystanders and not the person setting off the fireworks.

The information below includes safety recommendations to reduce fireworks-related injuries, details about known fireworks-related injuries, and tips on how to treat any injuries if they occur.

The Safest Ways to Enjoy Fireworks

Keep your distance. Fireworks can be loud enough to severely damage the hearing of adults and children. When attending a fireworks show, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association recommends that attendees stay at least 500 feet away from the fireworks’ launch site (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2021) to protect their hearing. Young children could wear earplugs, earmuffs, or headphones for an added layer of protection. In addition, unexploded fireworks, commonly referred to as duds, could land on the ground—at private or public fireworks activities— and they have the potential to go off. Avoid going near duds, and consider calling the fire department to help you dispose of them.

Pay attention to the weather. Weather conditions can impact the safety of hosting a public fireworks display and igniting fireworks at home. For example, if the area is experiencing dry conditions, releasing fireworks can lead to wildfires and poor air quality (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2021). In such situations, the local news media will typically encourage individuals to attend community firework alternatives and/or inform the community about safe outdoor activities. These activities and events may include laser shows or drone light shows.

Choose a safe alternative. Although sparklers may seem like a safe option for children, they could have similar dangerous effects as other types of fireworks. Sparklers burn at nearly 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and, at this temperature, sparklers can burn through metal, ignite clothing, cause eye injuries, and/or result in third-degree skin burns (National Safety Council, n.d.). If children want to participate in festivities, safer alternatives include giving them flags, glow sticks, party poppers, bubbles, silly string, party snappers, and noise makers.

The safest way to enjoy fireworks is to attend a fireworks display and leave the fireworks to the professionals.

Safety Tips for Deploying Fireworks at Home (If You Must…)

DOs

  • Supervise older children while they are handling fireworks.
  • Choose a spot away from people, houses, and flammable materials to ignite any fireworks.
  • Use protective eyewear when handling fireworks.
  • Read the device’s directions before use, and carefully follow the instructions when igniting the fireworks.
  • Use a long-stemmed lighter to light fuses.
  • Ignite only one device at a time.
  • Keep your pet(s) indoors and distract them from any stress the fireworks and associated noise may cause (e.g., food, TV, radio, toys).
  • Have equipment nearby to extinguish a fire or unexploded devices (e.g., bucket of water, working water hose).

DON’Ts

  • Do NOT allow young children to handle fireworks, even sparklers.
  • Do NOT permit anyone under the influence of drugs/alcohol to handle fireworks or supervise children who are handling fireworks.
  • Do NOT use any illegal fireworks (e.g., fireworks purchased from an unlicensed store, stand, or tent). Licensed retailers will have a brightly colored retail label.
  • Do NOT ignite fireworks in any indoor space.
  • Do NOT light fireworks while holding them.
  • Do NOT throw or point fireworks at another person.
  • Do NOT cover the device with your hand or any other body part.
  • Do NOT shoot any fireworks from a metal or glass container.

Cleaning up Used and Unexploded Fireworks

  1. Follow the package instructions for proper disposal of all used fireworks.
  2. Do not touch used fireworks (and duds) for at least 20 minutes.
  3. Avoid picking up or relighting duds.
  4. Soak duds and unused fireworks in water for at least 2 hours outside, if possible.
  5. Drain the water from the container.
  6. Transfer fireworks to a plastic bag.
  7. Dispose of the fireworks outside in a closed trash bin.

Common Fireworks-Related Injuries

Types of Injuries

  • Burns and blisters
  • Cuts, scrapes, and bruises
  • Fractures and sprains
  • Corneal or retinal injuries
  • Death

Injuries by Body Parts

  • Hand and finger injuries
  • Leg, arm, and trunk injuries
  • Head and face injuries
  • Eye injuries
  • Hearing damage

Immediate Treatment for Fireworks-Related Injuries

  • Soak the body part that has sustained the burn in cool water until the affected area no longer burns and the pain is relieved.
  • Soak any smoldering clothes with water until cooled, and then remove the clothing. If the clothing sticks firmly to the skin, cut away as much clothing as possible without pulling the clothing from the skin.
  • If the injured area is oozing, cover the area with a sterile gauze pad or a clean, dry cloth (e.g., sheet, towel).
  • Call 911 or rush to the nearest emergency room to seek immediate medical attention for severe injuries.

Signs of a severe injury:

  • The injury is deeper than a superficial wound (e.g., clothing is stuck to the area)
  • Redness and pain persist at the site of injury
  • Bad odor or discharge is present
  • The injury involves the face, hands, feet, genitals, or a moving joint
  • The injury covers a large portion of a body part

Note: The following home remedies are not recommended because they can make the injury worse and/or delay the healing process:

  • Do NOT put ice on the burn
  • Do NOT rub the burn
  • Do NOT put butter or grease on the burn
  • Do NOT cover the burn with mustard
  • Do NOT place powder on the burn

Additional Resources

The National Fire Protection Association offers free resources, facts, and infographics that promote fireworks safety.

The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a 2022 Annual Fireworks Report regarding fireworks injuries and activities during the year.

The American Academy of Pediatrics answers parents’ frequently asked questions in this First Aid for Burns resource.

The American Pyrotechnics Association provides resources to preserve and promote American traditions, including using fireworks to celebrate July Fourth at https://www.americanpyro.com/.

References

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2021, June 29). American Academy of Pediatrics: Stay safe this 4th of July. https://www.aap.org/en/news-room/news-releases/health–safety-tips/american-academy-of-pediatrics-stay-safe-this-4th-of-july/

American Pyrotechnics Association. (n.d.). Tips to celebrate safely. https://www.americanpyro.com/tips-to-celebrate-safely

Healthychildren.org. (2023, June 28). 4th of July fireworks safety: Tips for families. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-play/Pages/stay-safe-this-4th-of-july.aspx

Healthychildren.org. (2023, July 26). Burn treatment & prevention tips for families. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/injuries-emergencies/Pages/Treating-and-Preventing-Burns.aspx

KidsHealth Medical Experts. (n.d.). Fireworks safety. Nemours KidsHealth. https://kidshealth.org/en/kids/fireworks.html

National Safety Council. (n.d.). Leave fireworks to the experts. https://www.nsc.org/community-safety/safety-topics/seasonal-safety/summer-safety/fireworks

Science and Technology Directorate Transportation Security Laboratory. (2022, June 30). 10 tips for firework safety. United States Department of Homeland Security. https://www.dhs.gov/science-and-technology/news/2022/06/30/10-tips-firework-safety

Smith, B., & Pledger, D. (2023, June). 2022 fireworks annual report: Fireworks-related deaths, emergency department-treated injuries, and enforcement activities during 2022. United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/2022-Fireworks-Annual-Report.pdf

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