Fireworks safety – avoid injury this festive season

Public urged to avoid the unsuitable and unlawful use of fireworks this festive season

After what was undoubtedly a tough year for many, we are all looking forward to some rest and relaxation during the upcoming festive season. Diwali, the celebration of light, and Guy Fawkes were recently celebrated across South Africa, with other celebratory events such as New Year’s Day still ahead of us.

Over and above friends and family gatherings, decorations, wonderful food and music, there is one thing that can be universally associated with many celebrations – fireworks.

“The dangers associated with the use of fireworks cannot be emphasised enough,” says René Grobler, trauma programme manager at Netcare Milpark Hospital. “Injuries caused by fireworks range from minor scrapes to severe burn wounds and amputations and, in many cases, those hurt are children under the age of fifteen,” she adds.

In recent weeks alone, two young boys made national headlines after they sustained severe injuries in firework related accidents. The one boy’s hand was amputated after he lit a firecracker he found in his sister’s room while the other boy sustained massive facial injuries when a firecracker exploded in his face during this year’s Diwali celebrations.

“People tend to forget that fireworks are in essence explosive devices and that they should therefore be used with extreme caution,” says Grobler.

Furthermore, fireworks can have an extremely stressful effect on animals and pets. Over the past weekend, the SPCA in the Kloof and Pietermaritzburg areas took in more than 43 animals that ran away from home, presumable due to stress and fear caused by the loud fireworks. This can also be dangerous to people: when in distress, animals can go into a “flight or fight” mode and may hurt themselves, or attack their owners or other people.

Although strict laws exist under the relevant sections of the Explosives Act, the unlawful sale and use of fireworks still remains a big problem. “If you buy fireworks, remember that only licensed firework dealers are authorised to sell fireworks to the public and they can easily be identified by large signs stating “dealer in fireworks” displayed in their stores,” says Grobler.

Steer clear of fireworks with names such as “Indian Kings”, “Classic Foils”, “Square Bombs”, and “Cherry Bombs”. These are illegal fireworks and the public is urged to report the sellers of these fireworks to the police immediately.

Grobler provides some tips on how to use fireworks safely:

  • Only use fireworks in designated areas set out by your local municipality.
  • Read the instructions on the packaging of fireworks and make sure that you follow it. This can include instructions on how to properly light and discard used fireworks safely.
  • Never light fireworks indoors. Fireworks should only be used outside in an open area away from buildings.
  • Make sure you wear protective safety glasses and gloves when operating fireworks.
  • Always have a fire extinguisher and a bucket of water nearby when lighting fireworks.
  • Never attempt to make your own fireworks and never light fireworks if you suspect that they are homemade.
  • Never allow children near fireworks.
  • Never try to relight fireworks that fail to ignite as they could still react to residual heat and may well explode while you are handling them.

Even when all the necessary precautions have been taken, accidents can still happen and you also need to prepare for such an eventuality. Make sure that you have a first aid kit nearby at all times and have emergency numbers saved on your phone in case you need it.

“When someone is hurt by fireworks, initiate first aid immediately and phone a emergency medical service provider such as Netcare 911 (082 911) for professional assistance,” Grobler cautions. “The most common firework injuries are burns. While you wait for the ambulance, run the wound under cold water. Do not apply any ointments to the wound. If a wound is bleeding, put pressure on the wound and cover it with a towel or a piece of fabric to slow down bleeding,” she concludes.