Fireworks Safety Promoted by Leading Safety and Health Agencies

July 1, 2004
Kaboom! Pop! Pow! A line from a comic book? A demolition site? No, it's the week preceding the Fourth of July and fireworks have already started.

Every year, fireworks used by consumers cause thousands of injuries and fires. So again this year, a loose coalition of leading health and safety groups are urging a ban on consumer fireworks as Independence Day celebrations get underway. Citing deaths, injuries and fires, the group strongly suggests that adults and children not use these devices and instead attend public fireworks displays, conducted by professionals.

Members of the group include the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association for Hand Surgery, the American Burn Association, the American College of Emergency Physicians, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the International Fire Marshals Association, the National Association of State Fire Marshals and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

In 2002, eight out of nine emergency department fireworks injuries involved fireworks that federal regulations permit consumers to use. According to the coalition, even "legal" fireworks can result in scars and disfigurement that can last a lifetime. Sparklers, for example, can burn up to more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

There were an estimated 8,800 people injured by fireworks who were treated in a hospital emergency department in 2002. In the same year, four people died, according to U.S. death certificate records. Nearly two-thirds of fireworks injuries were burns, according to a newly released report from NFPA. More than one-third of fireworks injuries were to the head, with one-fifth of the total involving the eye. Half of all injuries were to the extremities.

Males accounted for 71 percent of the fireworks injuries. The female injury rate was higher than the male rate for adults, ages 45 or older. Highest risk of fireworks injuries is among teens and preteens. Children ages 10 to14 had a fireworks injury rate three times the general population, the rate for children ages five to nine was more than twice as high as average, and the rate for teens ages 15 to19 was twice that of the population as a whole.

In 1999, the latest year for which there are statistics, an estimated 24,200 reported fires were started by fireworks. Most of these fires were outdoor brush or refuse fires, and most of the loss occurred in fires with structures involved. These fires can start with outdoor use of fireworks. For example, a bottle rocket launched outside that lands on a roof or other location not easily accessed, ignites combustibles before anyone can retrieve it. Fireworks are typically the leading cause of fires on Independence Day, resulting in $17.2 million in property damage for 1999.

At present, only seven states ban all consumer fireworks. They are Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. Such bans have been linked to significantly lower rates of fireworks-related injuries and fires.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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