Fireworks Safety, Law and Noise
Information about Fireworks
Fireworks can frighten people and animals. The elderly and children are frequently scared and intimidated by firework noise. After all, fireworks are explosives. For animals, the impact of a noise can also be serious. Disturbing domestic pets can be dangerous too - as panicked pets may be vicious and destructive.
The bright colours and effects in fireworks are produced by a cocktail of chemicals. When fireworks go off they emit light, heat and sound energy, along with carbon dioxide and other gases and residues. The exact emissions will depend on the firework, but as the main component of fireworks is gunpowder, sulphur compounds are emitted. On and around Bonfire Night (November 5th) in the UK there is often a noticeable increase in pollution, particularly in levels of particulates and dioxins. Current research indicates that deposits of pollutants from fireworks do not pose a risk to soil or water. It is estimated that 14% of UK dioxins are emitted around Bonfire Night, although much of this comes from bonfires rather than fireworks.
Fireworks are explosives and must be used with caution.
Avoid firework frights
- Tell neighbours - especially the elderly and those with children and pets that you plan to have a firework display - better still, invite your neighbours.
- When purchasing fireworks, avoid really noisy ones. Your supplier should be able to tell you what they are selling.
- Make sure pets and other animals are safely away from fireworks.
- Consider timing. If you have a firework party, hold it on a Friday or Saturday and make sure the noise is over by 11.00 pm. For traditional celebrations like New Year and Bonfire Night, avoid continuing noise into the early hours.
- Avoid letting off fireworks in unsuitable weather - when it is still and misty, in strong winds or when air quality is poor. You can find out about air quality in weather forecasts, by ringing 0800 556677 or at https://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/
- Let off your fireworks in an open garden area - noise bounces off buildings and smoke and pollution builds up in enclosed spaces as well.
- If a neighbour complains that you are disturbing them, their pets or livestock, be considerate.
- After your display, clear up firework fall out and dispose of it safely.
Do's and Dont's
- Return to a firework once lit. It may go off in your face
- Throw fireworks
- Put fireworks in your pocket
- Play with fireworks
- Ever give sparklers to very young children
- Keep fireworks in a closed box
- Follow the instructions carefully
- Light the firework fuse at arms length
- Stand well back
- Keep pets indoors
- Wear gloves when holding sparklers
- Put spent sparklers in water
Individuals can store fireworks for private use for up to 14 days, provided they are kept in a safe place.
Fireworks and the law
What laws cover nuisance and danger caused by fireworks?
The Fireworks Regulations 2004 places new restrictions on the use and sale of fireworks.
Other than this, there is no specific law to deal with noise nuisance caused by fireworks. The ordinary noise nuisance laws will not be application to firework noise as:
- A 'nuisance in law' must be a continuous state of affairs. A firework event, held once a year for an hour or so, is not ongoing;
- Fireworks are used to celebrate a significant cultural or religious ceremony, this would be the view taken by any court in relation to fireworks used during this period;
- It would be difficult to prove beyond all reasonable doubt (Nuisance law is criminal law) that any one event or person is solely causing the noise problem when there may be scores of similar events in the locality;
- By virtue of the cost of fireworks, few firework events last long enough to allow officers to reach them before they (and the evidence would we need) are over).
When can I use fireworks?
The Fireworks Regulations 2004 prohibit anyone under 18 from possessing fireworks, and anyone except professionals from possessing display fireworks in a public place. These regulations also prohibit the use of fireworks at night (11pm - 7am) in England and Wales, with extensions to the curfew for the following festivals:
- Until 01:00 on the night of the Chinese New Year
- Until 01:00 on the night of Diwali
- Until 01:00 on the night of New Years Eve
- Until Midnight on 5 November
These regulations are enforced by the police. There is a penalty of up to £5,000 or 6 months in prison for breach of curfew. The supply, purchase or possession of excessively loud fireworks over 120 decibels are also prohibited.
Sale of Fireworks - Enforced by Trading Standards
Under the Fireworks (Safety) Regulations 1997 all fireworks for use by the public must meet British Standards BS 7114. Under these regulations, the sale of fireworks to under 18's is banned.
Since January 2005, sections 9 and 11 of the Fireworks Regulations 2004 prohibit the sale of fireworks to the public from unlicensed traders except for Chinese New Year and the preceding 3 days; Diwali and the preceding 3 days; 15 October to 10 November (Bonfire Night celebrations) and 26 - 31 December (for New Year celebrations). Traders will need to apply for a licence to supply fireworks year round.
Under the Control of Explosives Regulations 1991, it is an offence to keep fireworks (except those for private use) on premises that have not been registered for this purpose. Individuals can store fireworks for private use for up to 14 days, provided they are kept in a safe place.
The throwing or setting off of fireworks in a highway or street is an offence under the Explosives Act 1875. This is enforced by the police, with a fine of up to £5,000.
It is an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to animals under the Protection of Animals Act 1911. A penalty of up to £5,000 and/or 6 months in prison is enforceable by the police, trading standards or RSPCA.
Celebrating Bonfire Night - A community guide to organising bonfires and fireworks from the Department of Local Communities and Government
Last updated Thursday, 12th March 2020