Firework Categories, Classifications & Safety Distances
Consumer firework categories and their related safety distances explained.
Table of contents:
- Consumer fireworks are categorised as Category F1, F2 or F3.
- Category F1 fireworks are indoor or close proximity fireworks with minimal safety distances (e.g. 1m).
- Category F2 fireworks are outdoor fireworks with spectator safety distances of at least 8m.
- Category F3 fireworks are outdoor fireworks with spectator safety distances of at least 25m.
- These are spectator distances; distances to firers and structures will differ (see below).
- Category F4 fireworks are for professional use only.
Category F2 and F3 fireworks
Starting off with the most common type of firework you’ll be using as a consumer, Category F2 and Category F3 fireworks. These cover just about every type of firework from rockets through to cakes, barrages, fountains and so on.
All fireworks on sale to the public have to be extensively tested to CE standards and classified as either Category F2 or F3. Within each type of firework, different criteria determine whether the firework has an F2 or an F3 category. It’s beyond the scope of this article to delve into the technicalities too deeply. But to give an example, cakes with up to 500g of gunpowder in them are Category F2 whereas those with over 500g are Category F3.
So in general terms, the more powerful a firework, the more likely it is to be Category F3 and require a greater safety distance.
Some restrictions under CE apply to all fireworks, for example an upper noise limit of 120dB. And the UK in addition bans certain types of firework including bangers and mini-rockets even though they might be legal under CE in other European countries.
Each firework will clearly show its category on the warning label:
Category F2 fireworks require the smallest safety distance to spectators, typically 8m or 15m. In actual fact the F2 classification requires a minimum distance of 8m but manufacturers are free to increase this to any distance, so it’s not uncommon to see even 20m stated on F2 fireworks.
Category F3 fireworks are more powerful and require a spectator distance of at least 25m.
"Retire immediately" distance
You will also see on many fireworks that a distance is stated to which you must “retire immediately”. This refers to the person lighting the firework (known as the “firer”) rather than spectators. The reason the retire immediately distance is often less than the spectator distance is because of the assumption that the firer will be wearing some protective gear.
What about buildings, trees and so on?
The spectator and “retire immediately” distances are exactly that, they do not relate to anything else. In short, there is no distance requirement to structures such as buildings, greenhouses, trees, sheds and so on.
Common sense should be used depending on the firework type. Some items will fire projectiles into the air so ensure there is nothing directly over the firework. Fallout can include card tubes, paper and possibly some burning material, plus a stick in the case of rockets and most of this material will travel with the wind. I cover this in more detail in the Setting Up Fireworks guides.
How strict are these distances?
There are two reasons you might ask this (very common!) question:
One is that you’re maybe a bit tight for space, say in the back garden. You might have 10m distance from the fireworks to your audience and are wondering if you should still use a firework with a 15m distance. In cases like this I must stress that firework safety distances should always be adhered to. Whilst proper setting up (such as staking and taping cakes to the ground) can mitigate most of the risks, these safety distances should nonetheless be regarded as a minimum. So in short if you have 10m for example do not use 15m or 25m rated fireworks, use 8m fireworks. Similarly, 25m F3 fireworks must have 25m distance at least. Don’t fire them at 15m or 20m!
Another reason you might ask this is if you are firing in a much larger area, say a playing field, and are worried that your spectators are too far away. However, most 8m, 15m and 25m fireworks look equally as good from 30m, 50m or even further away. In fact if you have the space I always recommend pushing the fireworks back well beyond the label’s stated distance. The more space you allow, the less of a risk to the audience in the event of a problem.
Training, insurance, storage and other related laws
It is not a legal requirement to be trained before buying or using Category F2 and F3 fireworks. Any member of the public can buy these providing they are aged 18 or older. It is also legal to buy and use consumer fireworks any time of year but you must fire them by 11pm (later on some select dates such as Bonfire Night).
You do not need insurance if firing from your own back garden in a private display. For public displays however insurance is considered essential. In that case the underwriters might also stipulate that the firers receive some kind of training. This is usually “informal” training run by a supplier of consumer fireworks since no actual legally recognisable fireworks training exists for consumers (the training of professional display operators is completely unrelated).
Storage of fireworks, even consumer fireworks, is subject to legal limits in terms of amount and time. Whilst the vast majority of the public fall outside of the scope of these limits – due to small amounts or buying on the day they are firing – you should nonetheless be aware of these restrictions.
All of the above points are discussed in more detail in specific sections in my firework laws and legislation section such as the guides on fireworks storage, fireworks training and fireworks insurance.
What happened to British Standards (BS)?
Up until mid-2017 it was common to see fireworks on sale with BS (British Standards) warning labels on. However, it is now illegal for a fireworks retailer to sell fireworks that are classified under this system as it has been completely phased out after a winding down period of several years.
Under BS, fireworks were classified as either Garden Fireworks with a 5m safety distance, or Display Fireworks with a 25m safety distance. There was no middle ground here, all fireworks were either 5m or 25m.
Whilst it is a matter of opinion, it is generally accepted that CE fireworks offer better performance at their respective viewing distances and the return to more powerful fireworks that successive BS iterations had watered down.
Although CE is an EU-wide classification, the UK government has still insisted that various fireworks that our European friends enjoy are still banned in the UK. That includes aerial shells, bangers, screech rockets and airbombs.
At the time of writing (2021) it is still unclear what the implications of Brexit are on all of this. Members of the fireworks industry have indicated that they will be working towards a replacement in time, but until then, CE will remain in place. I’ll update this article if I learn of any news.
Category F1 fireworks
Category F4 fireworks
Fireworks for professional-only use are given the F4 category. These are not available to members of the public and are for trained display operators only. Most Category F4 fireworks do not have an explicit safety distance since it is down to the display operator to correctly set up and use them; many do not even have a delay fuse as they are intended to be electrically fired. Often called “industrial fireworks” by the press, Category F4 fireworks would clearly be very dangerous in untrained hands.
Contrary to popular myth there is no such thing as a “licence” you can buy or train for that allows you, as a member of the public, to buy or use Category F4 fireworks. You can read more about this in my aerial shells and Category F4 fireworks article.
1.3G, 1.4G, HT3 and HT4
Further complicating matters is 1.3G and 1.4G. This is a classification given to fireworks that relates to their potential hazard and this is shown in a big orange diamond on the side of the firework’s outer carton. This relates to transportation and packaging, with 1.3G being “more hazardous” than 1.4G.
For storage, the relevant UK legislation (MSER) defines fireworks as Hazard Type 3 or Hazard Type 4 (HT3 or HT4) and this then indicates how many of each type of firework can be stored in the same place and for how long. This is relevant if you’re buying a lot of fireworks or doing so many weeks before your display and need to store them.
You won’t come across the terms HT3 and HT4 much because, thankfully, these classifications usually correlate with 1.3G and 1.4G. So HT3 limits apply to 1.3G fireworks and HT4 limits apply to 1.4G fireworks. So I tend to only worry about the terms 1.3G and 1.4G when talking about storage limits. You can read more about the relevant limits in my Safe Fireworks Storage guide.
You will come across the term 1.3G a lot because many retailers emphasise various fireworks being better or more powerful as they are 1.3G. For more information have a read of the 1.3G or 1.4G fireworks? article.
I should stress that the majority of consumers buying fireworks on November 5th or New Year’s Eve to let off that night need not worry about 1.3G/1.4G or HT3/HT4 and instead focus on the firework’s safety distance as that directly relates to the safety of their display.
Category T1 and T2
Rarely, some firework related items sold to consumers (such as lancework) may have a T1 classification so I’ll quickly run over what this means.
Away from fireworks in general, stage and theatrical special effects fall into either T1 or T2 categories, rather than the F1, F2, F3 or F4 categories described above.
Category T1: Pyrotechnic items for stage and theatrical use that pose a low hazard and can be purchased and used by amateurs (i.e. the general public) although they may come with an “outdoor use only” restriction.
Category T2: Pyrotechnic items for stage and theatrical use that pose a greater hazard and can only be supplied to “Persons with Specialist Knowledge” (usually abbreviated to PWSK or PSK). Suppliers of such items will therefore only supply these to professionals and people within the stage, special effects, pyro or film industries. Example T2 effects include flame projectors, simulated bullet hits, stage maroons and so on.