Fourth of July, fireworks and foolishnessBy Jeff Donnell
For most of us involved in occupational health and safety, the notion of celebrating the birthday of the United States with explosive material is a bit oxymoronic. However, our national anthem mentions bombs bursting in air and no Fourth of July celebration is complete without a display of fireworks set to patriotic music.
In fact, our client roster includes an organization that puts on nightly fireworks shows designed to entertain guests and cap off a day of family fun. These well-choreographed events are managed by professionals who know their business and put safety front and center.
For a change of pace and with a nod to the upcoming holiday, this post will explore the hazards of fireworks handled not by professionals, but by those of us with no business brandishing a lighter and yelling “hey everybody, check this out!”
It turns out there is an organization called the National Council on Fireworks Safety that was created to promote safe and responsible use of consumer fireworks. They publish a list of recommended safety tips, several of which are listed here along with some of my personal experiences and observations:
A responsible adult SHOULD supervise all fireworks activities. Never give fireworks to children.
I know firsthand the importance of this tip. Years ago our family rented a beach house and cousins from far and wide gathered on July 4th, lured by the promise of free hot dogs and coolers full of beer. Said cousins came armed to the teeth with fireworks purchased at a roadside stand — including boxes of sparklers that were handed out like candy to children as young as three years-old. Suddenly, small tykes were brandishing sizzling pieces of metal — conducting dangerous symphonies and engaging in flesh searing sword fights. I finally called an end to the spectacle when I caught a small child holding his sparkler under the tire of my SUV, enthralled as the rubber began to smoke and bubble.
Alcohol and fireworks do not mix. Save your alcohol for after the show.
This sage advice applies to just about any activity where even a scintilla of danger exists, and certainly makes sense when it comes to lighting a fuse and running away. Unfortunately, backyard fireworks shows generally do not begin until it gets dark, which is a problem with the picnic starts at noon and the tequila starts flowing while the food is being grilled. Ideally, the individual putting on the fireworks show should be a responsible teetotaler.
Use fireworks OUTDOORS in a clear area; away from buildings and vehicles.
I violated this one my freshman year in college when the students on our dorm floor set up twin mattresses at either end of a long hallway. We then fired bottle rockets back and forth for hours on end with the express aim of maiming one another. At the time, it seemed like great fun. In hindsight it was the definition of idiocy and we could have, indeed, put someone’s eye out.
That same year, a few of the residents on our dorm floor picked up 1,000 bottle rockets on the way home from spring break, along with a spool of fuse material. They spent the better part of a day stringing all of these projectiles together, and then set them on the edge of the dormitory roof. As darkness fell, a few guys lit an old couch on fire in the middle of the courtyard, instantly drawing a crowd and the local fire department. Someone then lit the fuse on the assembled bottle rockets, and a 10 minute barrage rained down on the spectators, with Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries blaring from speakers placed in a dorm room window. Again, quite the spectacle but incredibly stupid, and the episode ultimately resulted in misdemeanor charges for the so-called masterminds.
Do not experiment with homemade fireworks.
While this one seems obvious on its face given the inherent danger of making incendiary devices at home, in this day and age it could very well lead to being labeled with the title “suspect” or “person of interest.” The wide array of professionally manufactured fireworks on the market should provide plenty of bang for the buck, so please avoid making them yourself.
Be safe and have fun
As you finalize your plans for the upcoming holiday, make certain to keep safety top of mind. If those plans include shooting off your own fireworks, use common sense, follow the tips for responsible use, and have a great time!
For any of our clients who happen to have an employee show up at their worksite clinic with a firework-related injury, rest assured that the Enterprise Health solution can assign the proper ICD-10 code for discharge of a firework (yes, these codes do exist).