The bang and the whimper

You feel like a spoilsport denying the excitement of fireworks to kids. But is a brief moment of fun really worth the risk?

Every year at Guy Fawkes, and often other celebrations associated with fireworks like New Year and Diwali, children (and adults) suffer injuries ranging from minor burns to losing an eye, and animals everywhere are severely traumatised.

Loud fireworks, apart from adding to noise pollution, may also be associated with hearing loss. Still other serious injuries have resulted from explosions at fireworks factories and stores.

And to dampen the fun even further, environmentalists now know that fireworks add to air pollution too: the smoke and dust they produce is pretty - and pretty full of toxins.

One tiny spark
For fire managers, especially where 5 November falls in the summer fire season as it does for large parts of South Africa, Guy Fawkes is a headache every year.

Rob Erasmus, manager of Cape Town - based Enviro Wildfire Services, which will have firefighter teams patrolling the Cape Peninsula this evening, says: "In windy dry conditions, particularly, fireworks can cause extensive damage as a result of the "hot ignition" which tends to get the vegetation burning a lot quicker than other types of ignitions like glass, cigarettes or matches.

"Patrols fulfill two main functions: their visibility makes people think twice before doing something silly, and having teams on site allows for a rapid response to the ignition and fire site to reduce the chances of the fire spreading."

A legal issue
The Explosives Act (No 26 OF 1956) has the following to say about fireworks:

  • It is illegal to discharge a firework in a public place.
  • You need a licence to sell fireworks and you may not sell them to anyone under the age of 16.
  • Any premises in which fireworks are handled (e.g. a shop) should have at least two exits, and should keep the fireworks at the rear of the building relative to the main exit.
  • Fireworks should not be displayed or kept anywhere that the public can have access to them. They must be kept under a counter or in a locked container.
  • It is illegal for anyone to smoke or take a naked flame onto premises where fireworks are stored or handled.
  • Parents are held responsible if their children use fireworks illegally.

Some municipalities have additional bylaws relating to the use of fireworks, and they are banned completely in some areas, so ask the local authorities as to the situation where you live.

If you are aware of anyone violating the law as regards fireworks, then phone your local branch of the South African Police. Also call the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) if animals are affected.

Celebrate safely
Skipping the fireworks this year doesn’t mean you can’t arrange an alternative treat for your family. There may be a large (regulated) public fireworks display organised in your area – check your local news outlets.

If you do decide to buy fireworks, go for the quieter, non-shrieking-banging kind. Don’t let kids use them unsupervised, and keep your pets indoors. Remember to tell your neighbours, so they can also care for their animals.

In addition to keeping pets inside, the SPCA recommends collars with ID discs or a microchip, in case animals panic and get lost. For very nervous animals, the organisation suggests asking your vet for a suitable sedative.

- Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth Editor, Health24, updated November 2011

Public Awareness Posters by the SPCA

Read more:
More firework safety tips
Sparklers can get red-hot!

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