Firework Safety Gear & PPE
A look at the various options on keeping yourself safe when lighting fireworks by hand.
Why you need to protect yourself
Fireworks are explosives and, whilst in most cases are perfectly safe when set up and fired correctly, there’s always a chance that something may go wrong. In addition, there are some minor ongoing hazards in and around fireworks during a display, such as fallout (card, rocket sticks and embers).
And please don’t think that you don’t need to wear safety gear when displaying in the back garden. This type of display by its nature is often in smaller or more cramped areas and you may be closer to the pyro than if you were displaying out in a big field.
In this article I’ll give some suggestions about what personal protective equipment (PPE) you should consider.
As a minimum, you should be looking at some form of protection for the following if you are lighting your fireworks by hand (as opposed to using a remote firing system):
Eyes. A pair of goggles such as those sold by DIY stores will suffice. Firework retailers often give away free goggles but check them for fit and comfort first, you may need to invest in something a little better, especially if you wear glasses. Note: Spectacles are not considered suitable eye protection on their own.
Head. At the least you should be wearing some form of hat or baseball cap, but a proper safety helmet is recommended (see below).
Body. If a firework goes very badly wrong you may be hit by a projectile. As a minimum here you should be wearing a thick coat, something that will help to protect you from an impact. Arms and legs should be covered.
Ears. If your display has a lot of bangs (or if you display regularly) then you should look into ear protection. At the basic level, disposable ear plugs are fine (3M yellow or orange ones are particularly good).
Hands. Sometimes when lighting fuses there is a possibility of minor burns to the fingers, so some form of gloves are advised. The type will be determined by what method you are using to light your fireworks as you may need more movement to use your lighter or blow torch. You may also need to light portfires, remove fuse covers and so on, so thick rigging gloves may be unsuitable (try thinner kitchen heat/cutting gloves in this case).
Feet. Sturdy boots are usually fine. Walking boots are ideal, as are proper safety boots with steel toe caps. If you’re on really bad ground and having to wear wellies, remember to have your trousers outside to prevent anything going down your boots.
More advanced protection (recommended)
You can improve on the basic protection above fairly simply and cheaply.
I would first suggest you buy better head protection such as a proper safety helmet. You can pick these up for under £5 in B&Q or just over £5 delivered for those on Amazon Prime. These will offer substantially better protection than a baseball cap.
You can also buy helmets that include a visor and ear defenders, intended for forestry or chainsaw work. These are also inexpensive at around £25 from B&Q or £18-ish from Amazon:
Professional firers also invest in sturdy flameproof overalls, so there is no reason why you shouldn’t too. A quick look on Amazon returns a number of these at under £40, many with hi-viz bands too.
That self-conscious feeling
On paper there is no reason not to wear PPE around fireworks given the potential risks. And yet many people don’t, especially in back garden displays. It’s possible that many people feel self-conscious about donning a lot of safety gear for what amounts to “just some fireworks” in the back yard.
I can sympathise with this, having cut my pyro teeth on back garden displays when I got into pyro. But I’ve also witnessed firework malfunctions in the back garden, some of which could have resulted in injuries to myself or other firers if we hadn’t been protected. So speaking from experience, you really do need to overcome any resistance to wearing PPE. With good PPE on, you can withstand quite a lot in terms of fallout, sparks, flames and other problems, taking it all in your stride.
Ironically, most of your audience is more likely to respect you if you’re fully kitted out. It shows you’re responsible and serious about not blowing up either yourself or your family. And believe me when I say, back garden fireworks always feel more powerful when the person firing them is kitted out in PPE.
Note: For public shows, insured shows or firing professionally, PPE should be considered mandatory (and legally is in some cases).
What about remotely fired shows?
If you’re firing remotely using a firing system then you’re highly likely to be at a similar distance away from the live fireworks as your audience. In such cases you would think PPE isn’t required. But… what is your “Plan B” in case something doesn’t fire? If you plan to hand light a non-starting firework then you should be wearing the same PPE – or have it to hand – as if you were hand firing.
What about if you have to go into the fireworks area, for example to put out a fire, or if your cabling needs adjusting or re-attached?
Also, think about clearing up. There are potential hazards when clearing your site including the possibility of a part-fired barrage re-starting or cake carcasses on fire.
My advice therefore is that whilst you don’t need a helmet, goggles and the likes on when pressing buttons at the spectator distance, you should still have PPE available in case of problems and for the after show clear-up.