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Remember, Remember the 5th of November – Changing Opinions on Fireworks, Bonfires and All Things Guy Fawkes

Remember, Remember the 5th of November – Changing Opinions on Fireworks, Bonfires and All Things Guy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes Night, celebrated on the 5th November every year, marks the infamous ‘Gunpowder Plot’ against the House of Lords in 1605, in which explosives were used in an attempt to assassinate King James I of England. Guy Fawkes was caught guarding the explosives and ultimately failed in his attempt. Ever now, over 400 years later, we still celebrate Bonfire Night. However, with repeated reports of injury to members of the public and the recent sway in public opinion to the sale of fireworks, is now the time to tighten up on the sale of these explosives to the general public?

Advertising and awareness campaigns for Guy Fawkes Night have primarily focused on the safe handling of fireworks. These campaigns often use a ‘shock factor’ to highlight the potential damage that misuse or inappropriate handling of fireworks can have on individuals. TV and print often display images of the burns which can be caused by fireworks, sometimes using prosthesis to demonstrate the physical impact such an injury can have.  

These campaigns highlight the importance of ensuring that fireworks are handled in the correct manner and by the correct people. Citizens are encouraged to attend public firework displays as opposed to private events, as they are arranged by Local Authorities with the necessary safety precautions in place.

Government Consultation on Fireworks

A consultation was conducted by the Scottish Government and was published on 4th October highlighting the public opinion towards fireworks and their use in pubic events. There were varied opinions:  

  • 70% of the respondents reported that they had been affected by fireworks in an irresponsible or unsafe way.
  • 94% thought that there should be more controls over the sale of fireworks.
  • 87% would welcome a ban on the sale of fireworks to the public in Scotland.
  • 92% believed there should be more control over how fireworks can be used in Scotland.
  • 93% thought that there should be greater controls to ensure animals are not caused unnecessary suffering because of the use of fireworks.

The comments published as part of the consultation indicated that the public had concerns around numerous issues, including the wellbeing of animals, those with autism and other members of our communities impacted by the noise and potential sensory overloads caused by fireworks:

“Having 2 autistic children who get petrified when fireworks go off. At times depending on proximity it sounds like you are in the blitz. Also, when it’s going off at random times day and night for months causes severe distress. Having to deal with the fallout which can be severe meltdowns, self-harm etc...”

The same respondent, when asked about controls that are currently in place felt that the rules in place were being broken, with poor resources for any breaches:

“Set times aren’t adhered to and there are not enough police officers to deal with it, also it is a total waste of police time and resources to have to deal with this. I feel fireworks going off until 11pm is excessive, that is potentially 6 hours daily of torture for people with sensory difficulties, PTSD, pets etc”

The findings demonstrate a re-evaluation of the previously publicised negative side of fireworks, with an understanding of the more widespread impacts upon more vulnerable people and animals. The respondents also indicated that there were several concerns in relation to the sale of fireworks over the counter and that there should be more controls in relation to this.

The Fireworks Regulations 2004

This legislation requires a retailer to display a sign where fireworks are supplied or exposed for supply, stating that it is illegal:

  • To sell adult* fireworks or sparklers to anyone under 18;
  • For anyone under 18 to possess adult* fireworks in a public place

*Any fireworks except for caps, cracker snaps, indoor fireworks, novelty matches, party poppers, sparklers, serpents and throwdowns.

These regulations mean that retailers require a license to be granted in order to supply or advertise any adult firework. Application for such a license is made to the local licensing board, who can refuse to authorise a license based on previous violations of the 2004 regulations, or those previously put in place. Occasions where a license for sale is not required includes the following seasonal / holiday times –

  • The first day of the Chinese New Year and the three days immediately preceding it.
  • On the day of Diwali and the three days immediately preceding it.
  • During the period beginning on the 15th of October and ending on the 10th of November.
  • During the period beginning on the 26th December and ending on the 31st

Animals and Fireworks

The period around Guy Fawkes night can be a particularly stressful time for animals. The RSPCA estimate that 45% of dogs in the UK show fear when they hear fireworks. The general advice supplied is to keep animals indoors, in the quietest part of the property. Animals should not be left alone for long periods of time, especially on the louder nights, and pet owners are advised to act as calmly as possible with pets, rewarding calm behaviour, using the sounds of TV or radio as background noise as comfort.

Firework and Bonfire Safety

With safety in mind, we must not forget the impacts that the improper handling of fireworks and bonfires can have on the physical wellbeing of those directly in the line of fire.

consumeradvice.scot have put together the following tips, based on recommendations from Scottish Fire & Rescue Advice to remain safe this bonfire night.

  • Always try to attend an officially organised display – be aware of surroundings if setting a bonfire at home

If a bonfire must be set at home, ensure this is kept well away from buildings,

vehicles, trees, hedges, fences, power lines, telecommunications equipment and sheds. Bonfires should not impact upon visibility on roads or otherwise inconvenience vehicles.

  • Be conscious of your own and neighbour’s wellbeing (including the animals)

Ensure that smoke / flying embers from the fire do not cause a nuisance to neighbours’ person or property. Remember that certain materials can cause the emission of harmful smoke and combustion. Pressurised containers and sealed vessels amongst bonfire material pose a risk of explosion – be aware. Ensure pets are kept indoors and in as quiet a place as possible.

  • Alcohol and fire don’t mix

Don’t go near fireworks or bonfires when under the influence of alcohol. Ignoring local by-laws and drinking in public places is still illegal. Police may issue fixed penalty tickets or send a report in relation to this to the Procurator Fiscal.

  • Don’t throw fireworks onto the bonfire and avoid the use of flammable liquids to ignite bonfires.

Use proprietary firelighters and avoid flammable liquids

  • Never leave a burning / smouldering bonfire unsupervised and never leave children unsupervised

Make sure that bonfires are completely extinguished and not left unattended. Keep children safe by ensuring they are kept away from bonfires and at a safe distance from fireworks.

Remember that behaviours and actions in relation to fireworks and bonfires, that are considered to be irresponsible or dangerous, are subject to removal.

If you would like more advice on the illegal sale of fireworks, or any consumer matter, you can contact consumeradvice.scot on 0808 164 6000. We are open 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday. You can follow us on social media – Twitter: @advicedotscot and Facebook at www.facebook.com/advice.scot, Instagram: @advice.scot, or get ahead by visiting our knowledge centre at www.consumeradvice.scot. 

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