Leave the Pyrotechnics to the Pros

This archived article is from July 2005. Although every effort has been made to make sure the information presented is accurate, please note that it may contain information that is out-of-date.

A fire ignited by pyrotechnics killed 97 people at a Rhode Island night club on February 20, 2003. Could this ever happen in Canada?

Years ago, firecrackers and skyrockets were commonplace in Canada. In the early 1970s, firecrackers were completely banned in Canada following public outcries that they were like miniature hand grenades for the pre-teen set.

Canada is Stricter

Fireworks in this country are strictly regulated through the Explosives Act, which is administered by the Explosives Regulatory Division (ERD) of Natural Resources Canada. ERD also provides professional safety and legal awareness training and certification for Display Fireworks Supervisors and Special Effects Pyrotechnicians. ERD only permits safe performing fireworks to be manufactured, imported and sold in Canada. Trick fireworks such as snap caps and dangerously powerful items are prohibited. In addition, the Aeronautics Act, administered by Transport Canada, specifies requirements for launching high power rockets, including those used in fireworks displays.

Canada allows fireworks in only two categories: Display; and Family or Consumer. Organizers need a permit to set off display fireworks, displays are fired only by experienced, licenced adults and crowd supervision is mandatory. These regulations, which are strictly enforced, prohibit a situation such as that in the Rhode Island incident. Nonetheless, regulation alone cannot protect the public. It must be combined with personal responsibility and awareness.

Regulation for fireworks south of the border is primarily a state responsibility. In some American states, "anything goes" - including bottle rockets designed to be launched from an empty bottle into the air. (This type of firework can easily take a child's eye out.) Under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, the US government prohibits the sale of the most dangerous types of fireworks to consumers. Fireworks are a business of over US $200 million in that country.

Injuries Peak on Special Days

Every year, fireworks used by amateurs cause many injuries serious enough to require emergency room treatment. Severe injuries caused by fireworks can include burns, lacerations, amputations, and blindness.

In the US, four persons died and an estimated 9,300 were treated in emergency departments for fireworks-related injuries during 2003. Close to half of the injuries were to children ages 14 and younger, with the highest rate of injury among 5 to 9 year olds. Most injuries occurred in households on and around holidays associated with fireworks celebrations, especially July 4th and New Year's Eve.

The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control attributes these injuries to a number of factors, including the fact that high risk types of fireworks, including illegal firecrackers are often available to the American public. Other major factors are being too close to fireworks when they explode, and unsupervised use by children.

Strict regulations and enforcement have resulted in Canada having far fewer fireworks incidents. Canadians consider control of fireworks to be an important public health and safety issue.

Perhaps because the incidence is relatively low, Canada does not keep national statistics on property damage, deaths or injuries specifically related to fireworks. However, in May 1998 the Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program (CHIRPP) examined its data base for injuries related to fireworks or firecrackers. CHIRPP data comes from 10 children's hospitals and six general hospitals across Canada. Its data base contained 175 fire-works-related injuries.

CHIRPP found that children 10 to 14 years of age sustained 42 per cent of the injuries associated with fireworks. Most of the injuries (77 per cent) were to males. The injuries peaked around certain days: Halloween accounted for 20 per cent, all in western Canada; and Victoria Day for 15 per cent, all in central Canada. Nine per cent of the injuries occurred around Canada Day.

Sparklers are often considered harmless fun. However, they can burn as hot as 650 C (1200 degrees Fahrenheit) and can ignite clothing. Never replace birthday candles with sparklers on a cake at an indoor party. As with other fireworks, always use them outdoors under adult supervision - on a driveway, sidewalk, or other fire-resistant surface. Place used sparklers immediately into a metal container.

Lighting Up the Sky

Over 16,500 Canadians are licensed to conduct exhibition fireworks demonstrations. The safest way to enjoy fireworks is to attend an outdoor display put on by some of these trained, licensed professionals. A public display is safer and more spectacular than do-it-yourself fireworks in your back yard.