Love them or hate them, the most popular time of year for fireworks has come around again. With the cancellation of organised displays this year, and with restrictions on gatherings, it was anticipated that there would be a higher than normal number of private Bonfire Night celebrations. At the same time, calls are being made, by the Scottish Government’s Fireworks Review Group, for the regulations surrounding the supply and use of fireworks to be tightened. What can be done to prevent something intended to bring colour and fun to a winter’s night from becoming a dangerous nuisance?
One of the basic safety principles, drummed into us from the early days of safety campaigns ran in schools, is that children and fireworks should only mix at a safe distance. As it stands, fireworks are an age restricted product and it is an offence to sell fireworks to anyone under 18. However, it is clear that much of the anti-social behaviour associated with fireworks is perpetrated by teenagers. Males aged 11-17 also make up a significant proportion of those presenting at hospital with firework related injuries each year. This indicates that the current restrictions are not sufficient to prevent young people accessing and misusing fireworks. The Review Group has recommended that a proxy purchasing offence be introduced, extending the restriction on supply to cover not only the retailer selling the product, but also to impose a criminal sanction on adults buying fireworks for those under 18.
A need to ensure that those purchasing fireworks are doing so responsibly and with the knowledge of how to use them safely, has also led to a further recommendation that mandatory conditions are imposed at the point of sale. It is suggested that this could include the need to complete an online safety course, to pay a fee, and to confirm where and when the fireworks will be used. Along with the other measures proposed, this would aim to reduce misuse, injury and nuisance without going as far as a complete ban.
Another common concern is the impact that fireworks have on those, human and animal alike, who are disturbed or even distressed by the loud noises and bright lights. The Fireworks (Scotland) Regulation 2004 already restricts the hours fireworks may be set off to between 7am and 11pm, with exceptions for certain special occasions such as New Year’s Eve and Bonfire Night. However, there are not currently corresponding restrictions as to when fireworks can be purchased, or to the volume which can be purchased in a transaction. The Review Group concluded that restrictions should be introduced to, at the very least, bring sale restrictions in line with the times at which fireworks can be set off, and to limit the volume an individual can buy. They also recommend limiting the days, and further restricting the time of day, at which private consumers can lawfully use fireworks.
Further, and with the intention of targeting areas where fireworks are creating a problem for the community, calls have been made for no-firework zones to be established. This would allow attention and resources to be directed towards areas where there is particular concern about anti-social behaviour or where problems are caused for wildlife or livestock.
All of these recommendations have been made against a background of public support for tighter rules. In fact, 87% of those who responded to the consultation indicated they would be in favour of a complete ban on the sale of fireworks. While the Review Group did not go this far, there does seem to be a real possibility that the use of fireworks by private consumers will be subject to further restrictions in the future.
Alongside the risk of injury to those setting off the fireworks, there is now a much greater awareness of the distress which can be caused to animals and to those with noise sensitivity. When public displays are going ahead, in specified locations and at specified times, it can be easier for those who know that they, or their pets, will experience problems to keep away. When the noise is coming from multiple private gardens, it is much harder to avoid. For anyone thinking of replacing an organised event with a DIY display this year, it is just as important to be considerate of those around as it is to remember personal safety.
Blog by Amy Haughton, Solicitor