Submission to Labour Party policy forum

Sent to the Labour Party for submission to  https://www.policyforum.labour.org.uk/commissions/environment/fireworks-reform-of-regulations

Labour-Party-submission

Fireworks – a call for reform of fireworks regulations in the UK

Fireworks have the potential to cause physical, emotional and environmental damage. The sale of fireworks to the general public has increased very substantially over recent years and public concern about fireworks is increasing year-on-year. Supermarkets and on-line retailers provide a wide range of imported fireworks including powerful F3 (Category 3) display fireworks for sale to the general public. Anyone over the age of 18 can buy and use fireworks up to and including Category 3 fireworks at any time of the year and in any quantity. Public concern about fireworks has been demonstrated by the numerous petitions to parliament with 57 fireworks petitions submitted to the UK Government and Parliament petition website in the year 2017-2018 alone. In addition, petition sites such as change.org, the petition site, etc have many petitions against fireworks submitted each year.

Firework and anti-social behaviour

The level of anti-social behaviour with fireworks is very significant and there is evidence from the press and from the media and that the level is increasing year-on-year. In recent years, there have been a substantial number of reports in the press of deliberate use of fireworks as weapons to attack people and animals and there are numerous reports of fireworks attacks on police, fire and ambulance crews. The deliberate use of fireworks to frighten or injure people and animals is now commonplace and occurs at all hours of the day and night irrespective of the legal curfew on the late-night use of fireworks. Typically, this behaviour is due to young men and boys, many of whom are well below the minimum legal age to purchase, or have possession of, fireworks in a public place.

Fireworks and animals

Pets, domestic animals and wildlife are severely traumatized by fireworks noise and the environmental damage caused by the virtually unrestricted availability of cheap fireworks to the general public. Category F3 fireworks permit a maximum noise level of 120 decibels which is ‘equivalent to a jet aircraft taking off’ (RSPCA report). This noise level for animals is terrifying and both the RSPCA and the British Veterinary Association have called for the maximum noise level of consumer fireworks reduced to 95 decibels. Animal charities and organizations such as the RSPCA, the SSPCA, the BVA, the Dogs Trust and the Blue Cross have repeatedly called for stronger regulation of fireworks and fireworks use. Each year many animals are panicked or traumatized by fireworks often resulting in severe injury or death. There are many reports, where animals such as dogs, cats, horses have been involved in road accidents due to panic from unexpected fireworks noise and flash (FAB report link). Also reported are horses aborting foals or maiming themselves and animals dying from shock and panic after exposure to an unexpected fireworks noise.

Fireworks accident data

Fireworks are highly dangerous pyrotechnic devices which can cause severe injuries, ranging from severe burns to blinding and sometimes even to death. Table 1 shows the annual NHS statistics for hospital admissions and A&E attendances due to fireworks injuries over the last 10 years in England alone. These statistics show a sharp increase in hospital admissions over the last two years with the highest total over the last 10 years (183) in the last available year (2016-2017) and the second highest total (168) in the last available year but one (2015-2016).  The breakdown of hospital admissions for children (age 14 and under) is even more alarming as the number of admissions in this age group has almost tripled over the last four years. Again, the highest total over the previous 10 years (59) occurred in the last available year (2016-2017) with the second highest total (53) in the last available year but one (2015-2016).

The A&E attendances due to fireworks injuries show a similar pattern of increase with the highest total over the last 5 years (5,340) in the last available year (2016-2017) and the second highest total (5,224) in the last year but one (2015-2016). The A&E attendances data for 2011-2012 was unreliable and discounting this year the A&E total for the last year of available data (2016-2017) was the highest for 10 years with the second highest total in the in the last year but one (2015-2016).

Table 1 Fireworks injuries: counts of hospital admissions and A&E attendances for England from 2008-2017 sourced from NHS Digital data.

Annual period Hospital admissions A&E attendances
From To Totals Age (0-14) Totals
April 2007 March 2008 131 41 2,952
April 2008 March 2009 100 27 1,643
April 2009 March 2010 94 25 2,141
April 2010 March 2011 158 42 6,173
April 2011 March 2012 164 37 NA
April 2012 March 2013 137 22 4,999
April 2013 March 2014 120 22 4,434
April 2014 March 2015 114 36 4,506
April 2015 March 2016 168 53 5,224
April 2016 March 2017 184 59 5,340

Overall, the NHS fireworks accident data for England shows evidence of increases both for the number of hospital admissions and for the number of A&E attendances, especially over the last two years. There is also clear and compelling evidence that the percentage of the total number of fireworks injuries showed a disproportionately significant increase for children of age 14 and under.

Public concern

Concern over fireworks use has increased steadily over recent years and the Government has been petitioned regularly to impose stronger regulation on the availability and use of fireworks and there is now an urgent need to review fireworks regulation.

The main public concern is about the availability and use of powerful and dangerous fireworks by untrained and unlicensed members of the general public. Almost all of the serious accidents and injuries to people and the majority of the injuries and trauma to animals are due to fireworks use by untrained and unlicensed members of the general public. The increasing numbers of accidents to young people and children and the increasing levels of anti-social behaviour show that the problem of fireworks misuse is increasing year-on-year. Fireworks are not now restricted to a single day of the year (November 5th in England or New Year in Scotland) but are used indiscriminately at almost any time of the year. The fireworks issue cannot be resolved by ‘public education’ and for many people the availability of powerful fireworks for ‘private use’ is unacceptable. Fireworks are never ‘private’ and the huge social and financial costs of fireworks misuse and fireworks injuries to people and animals mean that the unrestricted availability and use of fireworks by private individuals is no longer acceptable.

Call for reform

Reform of the fireworks regulation is a now top priority for the many people who suffer blighted lives due to the almost unrestricted availability of fireworks to the general public. Backyard or back-garden fireworks are an especial source of danger and upset to many people

The vast majority of fireworks are Category 3, (Display Fireworks) all of which state that spectators must be at least 25 metres away when the firework is fired. This is a safety concern as few people have access to that amount of private space. (Wikipedia).

Injury figures support the advice that the safest place to enjoy fireworks is at a large public display – far fewer people are injured here than at smaller family or private parties. (ROSPA).

Over the last seven years we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of people calling our emergency line, worried about the effect that fireworks are having on the animals around them. (RSPCA).

We call for a review of the fireworks regulations (The Fireworks Regulations 2004) with the aim of better controlling the availability of fireworks to the general public and especially with the aim of ensuring that powerful category 3 ‘Display’ fireworks are not available for unlicensed sale and use by the general public.

 

Links and references

 

Regulation of fireworks: http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN05704/SN05704.pdf

House of Commons Debate Pack: http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CDP-2018-0018/CDP-2018-0018.pdf

FAB report (2018): https://fireworkabatement.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/full-report-april-2016.pdf

FAB report (2018): https://fireworkabatement.files.wordpress.com/2018/01/addendum-to-report-2018.pdf

BVA Policy: https://www.bva.co.uk/uploadedFiles/Content/News,_campaigns_and_policies/Policies/Companion_animals/fireworks-and-animals-policy-position.pdf

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fireworks_law_in_the_United_Kingdom

NHS statistics: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/hospital-admitted-patient-care-activity/2016-17

RSPCA: https://www.rspca.org.uk/whatwedo/latest/blogs/details/-/articleName/Blog_Fairer_fireworks

ROSPA: https://www.rospa.com/home-safety/advice/fireworks-safety/

Fireworks Regulations 2004: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2004/1836/contents/made

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