Setting off fireworks

The environmental impacts of fireworks and how they can be managed.

Noise

Fireworks can frighten people and animals. In particular children and the elderly can be intimidated and scared by firework noise. Farm animals have been scared to death, literally, and startled animals have been injured, killed and caused accidents when bolting.

Disturbing domestic pets can also be dangerous as panicked pets can be vicious and destructive.

Air pollution

The bright colours and effects in fireworks are produced by various chemicals. Fireworks produce light, heat and sound energy along with carbon dioxide and other gases and residues.

The exact emissions will depend on the firework, but as gunpowder is a main component, sulphur compounds are emitted, along with small amounts of particulates, metal oxides and organic compounds (including minute amounts of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, dioxifis and furans). 


On and around Bonfire Night (November 5), there is often a noticeable increase in pollution from particulates and dioxins. Approximately 14% of UK dioxin emissions are produced around Bonfire Night - most of this coming from bonfires rather than fireworks. Current research indicates that deposits of pollutants from fireworks do not pose a risk to soil or water.

Safety

Fireworks are explosives and must be used with caution. Each year around a thousand people are injured by fireworks in Britain. Information on firework safety is available from South Yorkshire Fire Service.

When is it legal to buy fireworks?

There are currently no legal restrictions on the times of year when fireworks can be sold from those traders who have obtained a special licence allowing the sale of fireworks all year round.

The Fireworks Regulations 2004 in England, Wales and Scotland, prohibits the sale of fireworks to the public from unlicensed traders except for Chinese New Year and the preceding three days; Diwali and the preceding three days; October 15 - November 10 (Bonfire Night Celebrations) and December 26 – 31 (for New Year Celebrations).

What is the law on supplying fireworks?

Under the Fireworks (Safety) Regulations 1997 all fireworks for use by the public must meet British Standard BS 7114. Under these regulations the sale of fireworks to anyone under 18 is banned, and of caps, cracker snaps and party poppers to anyone under 16.

The following fireworks are banned from supply to the public:

  • bangers
  • mini rockets
  • fireworks that fly erratically (squibs, helicopters etc)
  • arial shells
  • maroons
  • mortars
  • all large powerful professional category 4 fireworks.

These regulations are enforced by local authority consumer protection/trading standards officers. Suppliers/shopkeepers in breach of these regulations face a fine of up to £5,000/6 months prison.

The Fireworks Regulations 2004 prohibit the supply of fireworks louder than 120 decibels.

Storing and selling fireworks

Under the Manufacture and Storage of Explosives Regs 2003, it is an offence to keep fireworks (except those for private use) on premises that have not been registered for this purpose. Individuals can store fireworks for private use for up to 14 days, provided they are kept in a safe place.

For more information on storing and selling fireworks please visit the following website:

Health and Safety Executive

What laws cover nuisance and danger caused by fireworks?

If a local authority officer judges noise from fireworks to be a statutory nuisance - under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, they can issue an abatement notice. However as firework noise is short lived, in practice it can prove difficult to locate the source.

Under the following Acts, local authorities have powers to issues various notices and orders:

1. Noise Act 1996Under this act, local authorities in England and Wales have powers to issue a fixed penalty notice if excessive noise is emitted from premises (including gardens) between 11pm and 7am.

2. Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Under this act, local authorities have the power to issue an anti-social behaviour order to anyone causing "harassment, alarm or distress". Disobeying an order carries a prison sentence of up to five years.

Fixed Penalty Notices

Throwing or setting off fireworks in the street is an offence under the Explosives Act 1875. This is enforced by the police, and since April 2004 a fixed penalty notice of £80 applies. The police can also enforce a fixed penalty notice of £80 to anyone under 18 possessing a firework in a public place and for breach of the 11pm to 7am curfew on letting off fireworks.

Suffering to animals

It is an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to animals under the Protection of Animals Act 1911. A penalty of up to £5000 and/or six months in prison is enforceable by the police, Trading Standards or the RSPCA.

When can I use fireworks?

The Fireworks Regulations 2004 prohibit anyone under 18 from possessing fireworks, and anyone except professionals from possessing category 4 fireworks. These regulations also prohibit the use of fireworks at night (11pm-7am) in England and Wales, with extensions for the following festivals:

  • until 1am on the night of the Chinese New Year
  • until 1am on the night of Diwali
  • until 1am on New Year's Eve
  • until midnight on November 5                             

These regulations are to be enforced by the police. There is a penalty of up to £5,000 or six months in prison for breach of the curfew.

Follow these guidelines to reduce the risk of nuisance:

  • give neighbours a few days’ notice of your display - particularly important if they are elderly, have children or pets
  • use appropriate fireworks - when buying fireworks, try to avoid really noisy ones. Your supplier should be able to tell you what they are selling
  • make sure pets and other animals are safely away from fireworks
  • consider timing. If you are using fireworks for a celebration, a Friday or Saturday is preferable, and make sure they are over by 11pm
  • avoid letting off fireworks in unsuitable weather - if it is still and misty or air quality is poor pollution could be a problem. Strong winds can be hazardous. Check air quality on 0800 556677
  • let off your fireworks in an open garden area - noise bounces off buildings and smoke and pollution can build up in enclosed spaces
  • if a neighbour complains that you are disturbing them, their pets or livestock, be considerate
  • after your display, clear up firework fallout and dispose of it safely                       

Further contacts

For further information, please contact us: 

Last updated: 20 March 2019 10:05:04