Setting off fireworks is a tradition for many families on summer holidays like July Fourth and Canada Day, but it can have dangerous consequences – particularly for young people.
An estimated 11,500 injuries involving fireworks were treated in US emergency rooms in 2021, 8,500 of which occurred between June 18 and July 18, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s 2021 Fireworks Annual Report. During that time period, people under 25 years old and under 15 years old accounted for around 49% and 29% of total injuries, respectively.
Even among those who understand the risks, adherence to fireworks safety measures can be hit and miss, a recent poll found.
Some parents do not follow all safety precautions for using fireworks and sparklers with their children, according to a report by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at the University of Michigan Health.
“Parents need to own their part of it, own their responsibility to make sure, as best they can, that they aren’t setting up a situation that is going to mar or impede from the celebration because somebody got burned or somebody had an injury,” said Sarah Clark, a research scientist in the department of pediatrics at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation. Clark is codirector of the national poll.
Fireworks-related injuries are avoidable and preventable, said Susan McKelvey, communications manager of the National Fire Protection Association. If you are able to, it’s best to attend a public firework display put on by trained professionals, she added.
“That’s the safest way to enjoy fireworks,” McKelvey said. “And you’ll probably see nothing more spectacular anywhere else.”
If you do choose to light fireworks, here are some ways you can protect yourself and those around you.
Stay safe while using fireworks
First off, before purchasing or using fireworks, make sure they are legal in your area, Alex Hoehn-Saric, chair of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, told CNN. The American Pyrotechnics Association has a directory of state laws and regulations for the use of consumer fireworks.
Consumers should never use fireworks or sparklers indoors or without reading firework instructions for proper use, said Jane Terry, vice president of government affairs at the National Safety Council.
When using fireworks, remember WOW (water, one at a time and walk away), Hoehn-Saric added. Have water close by in case of any mishaps or accidents, only light one at a time and walk away from the firework quickly once you light it. If a firework doesn’t go off after it’s lit, don’t try to relight it, he said.
Once fireworks and sparklers have been used or deemed faulty, it’s best to submerge them in water, according to Clark.
Fireworks can be unpredictable, and it’s important to wear protective goggles or eyewear to minimize the risk of eye-related injuries, she said.
Alcohol, drugs and fireworks don’t mix. Anyone who has consumed alcohol or drugs should not use fireworks or sparklers.
“Whether it’s setting off the fireworks or watching the kids with the sparklers, somebody needs to be on top of it, and that person needs to be attentive to the task and sober,” Clark said.
Keeping your children safe
Parents and caregivers should figure out their child’s maturity level before deciding to engage in activities related to fireworks and sparklers, Clark said. Children need to be willing to follow safety rules, even when they get excited, and parents have to make sure their children understand those rules. Most importantly, she added, parents need to constantly enforce those rules.
“Accidents are really difficult to predict,” she said. “Kids get excited; they forget that they’re holding a burning hot object in their hand, and then that’s when the object touches either their own body or somebody else’s.”
Sparklers may seem like a harmless alternative to fireworks, but they burn as hot as 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit (537.8 degrees Celsius) and can cause significant injuries if they are held incorrectly or dropped on feet and clothing, Terry said via email.
“If you consider that glass melts at 900 degrees Fahrenheit, you’re putting something that burns even hotter in people’s hands, including a lot of times children’s hands,” McKelvey said.
Older children can light sparklers if used correctly with adult supervision, but young children should not handle them at all, Terry said.
Some sparkler safety rules, which apply to adults as well, include keeping the sparkler away from one’s face, only using one at a time, staying separate from others using sparklers and not throwing the sparkler on the ground. People can also wear shoes to help protect their feet in case they step on a hot sparkler, Clark said.
“Being safe, no matter what you’re doing, is of the utmost importance,” Terry said. “Preventable injuries and deaths go up in the summertime, and whether it’s fireworks, heat-related incidents or traffic crashes, we need to be aware of what can be done to reduce risk.”