Fireworks Contents

Annex A: Summary of survey results

We launched our survey on 27 February. A link to the survey was emailed to everyone who had signed one of 11 open petitions about regulation of fireworks and had consented to be contacted.

By far the most popular of these petitions was the first listed below, calling for a ban on sales to the public, which had around 300,000 signatures (the second most popular petition, calling for firework sales to the general public to be restricted to “quiet fireworks”, had only around 1,000 signatures).

The survey closed on 26 March. There were 63,076 responses in total (20,447 partial responses and 42,629 complete responses).

Key themes

“Quiz” on current laws

The first section of the survey was designed to test respondents’ knowledge and understanding of the following current rules:

Respondents’ knowledge and understanding of these rules was mixed. For example, large majorities were aware of special rules in place for each of the four protected festivals. A very large majority were aware of the night time restrictions. There was relatively poor awareness of the penalties for fireworks misuse.

The quiz asked:

1. How old do you have to be to buy outdoor sparklers? **

About half of respondents answered correctly that people had to be 18 years or older to buy outdoor sparklers. Around 40% believed the age requirement was at least 16 years. Less than 10% thought people had to be at least 21 years old to buy outdoor sparklers:

2. True or false? It’s against the law to sell very powerful fireworks designed for use in large open spaces to the general public. **

A small majority of people (57%) believed this statement to be true; 43% answered that it was false.

**Note on questions 1 and 2 of the survey:

Several survey respondents, particularly those working in the fireworks industry who had a detailed understanding of the relevant Regulations, told us that questions 1 and 2 were potentially ambiguous.

The “quiz” questions were intended to assess the public’s broad understanding of the rules. They were posed in simple language and in such a way as not to presuppose a detailed understanding of the Regulations and the technical specifications of the different categories of fireworks.

By “outdoor sparklers” in question 1, we meant category F2, intended for use in confined outside areas (e.g. domestic gardens). The Regulations are clear that people must be at least 18 years old to buy F2 fireworks, including sparklers.

By “very powerful fireworks designed for use in large outdoor spaces” in question 2, we meant the most powerful category, F4 fireworks, which the relevant Regulations state are intended for use by people with specialist knowledge only.

3. There are special rules for fireworks during four festivals every year. Which four festivals?

• New Year’s Eve

• Halloween

• The Queen’s birthday

• Diwali

• Chinese New Year

• Bonfire Night/Guy Fawkes’ Night

• St. George’s Day

Most people understood there were special rules in relation to New Year’s Eve (75% of respondents), Bonfire Night/Guy Fawkes (71%), Chinese New Year (69%) and Diwali (66%).

However, a significant proportion of people wrongly believed there were also special rules in place for the Queen’s Birthday (34%), Halloween (18%) and St. George’s Day (17%).

4. True or false? Other than those four festivals, it’s illegal to set off fireworks between 11pm and 7am.

81% of respondents answered correctly that this statement was true; 19% wrongly believed it was false.

5. What’s the maximum prison sentence for selling or using fireworks illegally?

• No prison sentence

• 3 months

• 6 months

• 12 months

• More than 12 months

A small majority of respondents (53%) incorrectly believed there was no prison sentence for selling or using fireworks illegally. Only 18% of respondents answered correctly that the maximum sentence was six months in prison.

Views on the Government’s position and key concerns

We wanted to know what respondents thought of the Government’s view that current Regulations provide a good balance between people’s rights to enjoy fireworks and protecting people, animals and property from harm.

The survey presented four options and asked respondents which best described their opinion:

Unsurprisingly, given the population surveyed, a large majority of respondents (74%) supported an outright ban on public sale and use. However, a significant minority of respondents (14%) believed enforcement of the current law was the main concern. 10% of respondents supported greater restrictions (short of an outright ban) on sale and use. Only 2% of respondents believed there was no problem with the current rules.

The survey asked respondents to choose the category which best described them:

A large majority of respondents (70%) identified as being principally concerned about the effects of fireworks on animals and the environment. The next largest group (11%) identified as being primarily concerned about anti-social behaviour. The remaining categories were each chosen by fewer than 5% of respondents.

Concerns specified by the nearly 10% of respondents who chose the “other” category included:

Breakdown by category of respondent

1. Concerned about animals and the environment

Of those who described themselves as most concerned about the effects of fireworks on animals and the environment (29,402 respondents, 70% of respondents who chose a category) we asked which of the following best described them:

A majority (67%) of respondents principally concerned about animals or the environment identified themselves as members of the public concerned about pets/domestic animals. The next largest category (17%) was those who described themselves as members of the public concerned about wildlife and the environment. 8% of those concerned about animals and the environment identified as working in an animal-related business. Wildlife and veterinary/animal welfare workers accounted for less than 2% of all respondents who were concerned about animals and the environment.

As with the broader question about people’s main concern about fireworks, many of the 6% of respondents in the animals/environment group who chose the “other” category reported that more than one category applied to them and they were concerned about all animals, whether pets, domesticated or wildlife. Several respondents in the “other” category identified as Guide Dog owners.

We asked respondents concerned about the effects of fireworks on animals they cared for, how often their animals were affected. An overwhelming majority (94%) said their animals were affected several times a year or more frequently.

Summary of free text comments from respondents who identified as primarily concerned about animals and the environment

Owners of pets and domesticated animals

As noted above, by far the largest category of respondents was owners of pets and domesticated animals. 19,676 commented in the free-text box provided. By far the most common responses were in relation to the effects on pet dogs. There were thousands of similar descriptions. These examples were typical:

“I have 2 dogs, one of which doesn’t bother about fireworks, and another that is terrified. The noise of fireworks causes him a high amount of distress and anxiety—to the point where he won’t eat and can barely sleep. It’s not fair for helpless animals to have to go through this.”

“In our experience of owning 6 dogs over different periods, dogs are absolutely petrified of fireworks. The fear is beyond anything I see in the dogs at any other time. They cry, cower away, whimper, chew through power cables and rugs, etc.”

“My dog is terrified of fireworks, every year he has to take diazepam plus many other ‘aids’ to relax him during the fireworks just to calm him down which don’t work, he gets extremely stressed to the point he will be sick.”

“My poor dog suffers terribly, and it does not put stress just on her but me and my partner. It makes her hysterical and she messes everywhere with being so frightened.”

Workers in animal-related businesses

People who worked in a range of animal-related businesses reported that it was not possible to fully mitigate the effects of fireworks on their animals. A substantial proportion of responses were from people who worked in pet boarding and equestrian businesses. People described both the financial and emotional costs. For example:

“When fireworks are set off for long periods of time (6 weeks every year) my horses become sick. They have colic through stress and then suffer weeks of costly gut ulcer management. This can make horses dangerous to handle for weeks and weeks. Every year I have up to £1000 worth of drug and vet bills at this time. Starts end of September and goes on to March. When they are panicked I have to spend endless evenings out with them in the cold trying to ensure they don’t jump thru fencing and onto highways.”

“I work in a kennels and cattery, the fireworks absolutely scare our animals to the maximum, they have no where they can try and escape to hide in a kennel or cattery. We try our best to provide radios, shut all doors so the building is as sound proof as it possibly can be, however there’s so many going off in so many directions I think it’s getting stupid now. It starts from bonfire night and goes all the way up to New Years, every single night there’s at least one firework go off no matter what day it is.”

“I’m in the Equestrian industry, and for a flight or fight animal, loud explosions (for want of a better word) going off every night for up to 4 weeks at a time at all hours of the night is absolutely terrifying. In some horses (especially the more nervous), this can cause injury or illness, leading to large vet bills and great emotional and financial distress.”

“I lost a much-loved competition horse who was so traumatised by a private fireworks party held unannounced next to his yard that it triggered colic. We spent £10,000 trying to save him but he was beyond hope. I had invested 15 years of hard work into his competition training. His value was £25,000 plus the emotional attachment I had to him. That one fireworks party cost me £35,000 in losses and an immeasurable amount emotionally.”

“I manage a yard of 40 horses in surrey, between Halloween and New Year’s we have firework displays at people’s houses local to the farm every weekend. It is very shocking to the horses who cannot see what’s causing these sudden explosions. If it was just one night we could manage the horses and sedate those particularly stressed by fireworks but it’s multiple nights and multiple displays that are incredibly close to our farm.”

“They frighten animals, we have had horses go through barbed wire fences.”

There were also reports of serious injuries to farm animals, for example:

“The injuries I have seen caused to livestock; aborting foals, calves, lambs, running in blind panic through fencing with often fatal injuries and just sheer distress of animals when fireworks are let off in gardens adjacent to fields and farmland.”

Conservation workers

There were relatively few responses from conservation workers and others concerned about wildlife. Typically, the primary concern was about the effects on birds and their nesting sites. Some reported concerns about the effects on a wider range of wildlife:

“Wildlife find fireworks incredibly alarming. They often disturb the roosts of thousands of birds such as starlings causing them to fly off in panic and often end up colliding with buildings/cars. They startle larger animals such as deer which can be a hazard for people in vehicles. They may cause parent animals to abandon their young through fear [ … ]”

Veterinary surgeons/nurses/animal rescue centres

Veterinary and animal rescue professionals and volunteers described injuries to animals including birds, dogs and wildlife:

“[ … ] birds crash into buildings especially glass windows, nesting birds are abandoned [ … ]”

“I work as a veterinary nurse. Last year I was a night nurse and the whole week on firework night leading up to new year I had animals come in in horrible states.”

“3 dogs had anxiety seizures. 2 of which were euthanised as they were in such a bad state and couldn’t come out of it.”

“I run a wildlife rescue charity, and despite our best effort to limit the effects of the fireworks on the nights we are expecting them, we usually lose a handful of patients directly as a result of fireworks in the neighbourhood. [ … ] Wildlife is prone to a condition brought on by the stresses of captivity, (Rhabdomyolysis) and we work tirelessly to limit this, as it is nearly always fatal. This is the condition that fireworks cause; as the sudden shock of the explosions and lights in conjunction with the inability to escape (usually due to the injury for which the creature was admitted to us), instantly releases the chemicals that start this process. We can only attempt to protect against it when we are aware of local firework displays.”

2. Effects of fireworks on children

We asked those respondents who identified themselves as primarily concerned about the effects of fireworks on children (1,127 respondents, less than 3% of respondents who chose a category) which of the following best described them:

A large majority (80%) of those primarily concerned about the effects of fireworks on children identified as parents/guardians/carers. Of the remainder the largest category was “other” (13%), with respondents in this category identifying as extended family members or merely concerned members of the public. 6% identified as teachers or school workers. Less than 2% identified as youth workers or involved in youth groups.

We asked people concerned about the effects of fireworks on children what was their main concern about fireworks:

A majority (66%) were concerned that fireworks were dangerous for children. The remainder of respondents were quite equally spread between concerns about sleep, children being frightened and children with specific needs (each around 10%).

Those who chose the “other” category (50 respondents) typically identified as a member of a child/children’s extended family or a member of the public concerned about the welfare of children generally.

Summary of free text comments by respondents who identified as being predominately concerned about the effects of fireworks on children:

Dangers of fireworks to children

Despite the high level of concern about the danger of fireworks to children, there were few reports of actual injuries. Those that were described were very distressing, however, for example:

“Our son was hit by a firework last year, he was 22 months old at the time. This was a firework sold to us by a large supermarket chain, one that shoots colour bursts, not a rocket. We secured it as per the instructions and it fired from the side instead of the top, straight into my son’s hand (he was a good 10+ metres away). He has suffered deep burns to the whole of his palm and fingers, it took over a month for the wounds to ‘heal’ and now has thick scarring on his palm. He has to have cream/sillicone gel applied several times a day and is now at risk of this causing him long term damage and restricting the use of his hand/fingers.”

Many respondents reported being aware of local children being hurt by fireworks but without giving specific details. There were also many descriptions of “close calls” in which children were nearly hurt by fireworks.

Effects on children’s sleep

Many respondents described the effects of fireworks set off at night on children’s and babies’ sleep. For example:

“During bonfire night and New Year’s Eve my house was like being in a war zone. Fireworks were going off outside the windows until 2-3am. My baby (who was four months!) could not sleep due to the extreme noise and lights.”

“My youngest daughter is in tears before going to school during the bonfire night season (because it lasts 3 weeks here) because she is so exhausted after constant disruption to her sleep. The current laws are not being enforced as we have them going off at 2am sometimes which is massively anxiety inducing and unfair.”

Children being frightened

“[ … ] the noise of them is so debilitating to my 2 year old son, to the point he bites his fingers until they bleed, he tries to smother himself and is in constant fear with each loud bang.”

“We have a young son who was terrified and wouldn’t sleep in his own bed for weeks because he was so frightened by the loud bangs. Every night we would put him to sleep at 7pm and then have screaming hell until midnight because he was terrified of the noise that continuously wakes him up. He has suffered night terrors as a result of this.”

“Nearly 4 months after bonfire night and my 2 year-old still goes to bed scared of fireworks. Her sleep was severely disrupted for months and the impact of this on our family has been awful. Fireworks go off pretty much every night before 5th Nov up to and beyond new year. It’s too much and constant fear in my daughter is unnecessary and very hard for her to cope with emotionally.”

Effects on children with special needs such as autism and learning, sensory and developmental disabilities

Several parents of children with autism and other complex needs reported the effects of fireworks. For example:

“[ … ] our son has severe complex needs including epilepsy, which can cause him to stop breathing. Loud, unexpected noises are often a trigger for this. We don’t very often take him to displays, but if we do he wears ear defenders, and we stand a safe distance away from the fireworks, sometimes choosing to stand far enough away so they aren’t as loud. Sadly at home where he should be safe and protected, members of the public are able to set fireworks off at any time, in the street or in their gardens, the laws are not inforced and we cannot guarantee how loud they are going to be due to the proximity to our home. As lovely as it is to see fireworks on new year’s Eve etc … My son screams, has a seizure and has to be administered oxygen. This is distressing for all involved.”

“My nephew has autism and hearing fireworks triggers meltdowns for him. He screams and screams. It surprises me that more people don’t understand this [ … ].”

3. Effects on people sensitive to noise or explosions

We asked those respondents who identified themselves as primarily concerned about the effects of fireworks on people who are sensitive to noise and explosions (1,721 respondents, just over 4% of all respondents) whether they would still want greater restrictions on the sale and use of fireworks if all fireworks were quieter: 60% said yes, they would still want greater restrictions; 26% said no; and 14% answered “don’t know”.

We asked respondents whose primary concern was people who were sensitive to noise or explosions which of the following categories best described them:

Of those who chose a category, 618 respondents (36%) said they or someone close to them had had a traumatic experiences/s, which meant they could not enjoy fireworks; a similar proportion (34%, 593 respondents) said they or someone close to them was on the autistic spectrum or had other special needs; 11% (198 respondents) said they or someone close to them was a veteran.

9% (102 respondents) of people who said their main concern about fireworks was the effects on people who were particularly sensitive to noise said they had been diagnosed with PTSD.

Summary of free text comments by respondents who identified as being predominately concerned about the effects of fireworks on people who are particularly sensitive to noise:

Disabilities

Many of the nearly 19% (323) respondents who chose the “other” category described a very wide range of medical conditions and disabilities that made fireworks problematic for them, for example:

Traumatic experiences leading to fear of fireworks

Respondents described a range of traumatic experiences leading to fear of fireworks.

Four respondents reported that they or relatives had been present at the Manchester MEN bombing and described the fearfulness fireworks now caused them. For example, one respondent wrote:

“Myself and my sister were at the MEN arena in Manchester the night of the Manchester attack (22/05/2017). The result of that night and hearing the explosion has caused us distress when it comes to fireworks, as the noise of a firework is very similar to the sound of the bomb explosion. Therefore, myself and my sister (mainly my sister (who is 13) find it difficult when there are fireworks going off.”

Several respondents reported that older relatives who had lived through bombing in the Second World War had always retained a fear of fireworks.

Other respondents reported being involved in accidents, for example exploding gas canisters and road traffic accidents:

“My brother was seriously injured in a work place explosion involving gas cylinders. Any celebrations involving fireworks render him a physical and mental wreck, this also has a deep emotional impact on his wife and three children. He dreads the run up to, during and following Bonfire night and other celebrations because members of the public use fireworks in a reckless manner and over a long period of time, usually around 4 weeks.”

Veterans

Dozens of veterans of military conflicts and their families described fireworks triggering panic attacks or symptoms of PTSD. The key theme in these responses was that, while organised public displays were generally manageable, private fireworks displays, which were less predictable and often impossible to plan for, caused significant problems. For example:

“I am a veteran and constant fireworks, which are very loud, take me back to the battlefield and have an impact on my mental health. I can’t fully describe the terror the fireworks cause me. I have no problem with public organised events. However, the constant unexpected bursts of loud noise and flashes of fireworks is terrifying. I served for almost 25 years in various conflicts, I believe in people having the freedom of choice, but allowance must be made for people like me.”

“My husband, after being to Afghanistan and Iraq with the army and unfortunately being involved in an explosion with an IED, now suffers PTSD. Majority of the time this is managed. If we are at an organised display, he is OK, prepared for the noise etc. However, when they are going off at all times of the day and night on numerous days that aren’t fireworks night/new year, in his mind he is right back there in Afghanistan [ … ]. And then there we are all the work he has done to overcome his PTSD is undone in an instant and we are right back at square one—night terrors, withdrawn etc.”

4. Anti-social behaviour

We asked the 4,552 people who said anti-social behaviour (ASB) was their primary concern about fireworks (11% of respondents who chose a primary concern) whether the ASB they were concerned about was predominantly committed by young people. A majority (61%) answered yes; 17% said no; 22% didn’t know whether ASB was predominantly committed by young people.

We asked respondents whose primary concern was ASB which of the following categories best described their reason for concern:

Most respondents whose primary concern was ASB were most concerned about fireworks being set off in the street (1,527 responses, 33%) or set off very late at night by neighbours or near-neighbours (1,521, 33%).

Concern about more serious ASB was relatively uncommon: 9% (426 respondents) of those primarily concerned about ASB reported having been threatened with a firework; 7% (304 respondents) reported having been injured by a firework in an ASB incident).

Summary of free text comments by respondents who identified as being predominately concerned about anti-social behaviour with fireworks

Problems with neighbours’ fireworks

There were relatively few reports of more serious ASB committed by neighbours, but some examples were distressing. For example:

“I’ve actually had a group of older teenagers set fireworks off 3 foot from my bedroom window late at night. In my previous flat high school children used to open the main door to the flat and throw fireworks in.”

“The neighbour’s back garden is 3 metres away from the front of my house (semi-detached). They used commercial fireworks and these were very powerful and frightening. When we protested, they pushed and hurt another neighbour.”

There were several common themes in responses from people concerned about their neighbours’ use of fireworks:

Fireworks set off late at night

Hundreds of respondents reported neighbours or near-neighbours setting off fireworks until very late at night outside of the four protected festivals. Many reported complaints not being acted on. There was an assumption that the police and councils lacked the resources to enforce the law.

“The laws are not being enforced at all. They usually start at Halloween then continue every night for the rest of the month. They go off at all hours from 5pm until 5am.”

“The law is impossible to enforce, fireworks go off till the early hours of the morning and for longer than the specified occasions, for example bonfire night. They’re going off as soon as you can buy them continuously till New Year’s Eve.”

“Police have told me they need to be there at the time to witness the fireworks being set off and they don’t have the manpower.”

“Late night use of fireworks outside of legal hours happen frequently, and in public spaces (such as on a mini roundabout in a housing estate). [ … ] None of the laws related to fireworks are being enforced.”

“I have called the police to report the use of fireworks until the early hours of the morning, when a festival is not in place. I have been told that it is not against the law and that if I have an issue I should call environmental health regarding this. I feel I was fobbed off just so the local police force didn’t have to bother with it.”

Fireworks set off in the street; injuries

There were numerous reports of fireworks being set off in the street, particularly by young people. There was an assumption that shops were flouting the rules by selling fireworks to young people. There was a perception that the problem had become worse in recent years. Again, there was a strong perception that the police lack the resources to deal with the problem.

“People have set off fireworks at all times of day and night, often very late at night in the streets around where I live. Often it’s young people who like to scare and annoy people who they know live alone or are scared as I hear them talking and laughing about doing this.”

“Increasingly I see more people under the age of 18 (and older) using fireworks in an anti-social way. Definitely not just on the four festival dates but even recently during the evening or night. I think this is because there is no one to stop them from throwing them. I am presuming they are also buying them illegally.”

“Kids are letting them off aiming them at cars, and there is nothing the police can do to help, they can’t be everywhere at once on these nights. By the next morning the smoke still hasn’t cleared, and the neighbourhood is littered with the remnants of used fireworks.”

“A gang of teenagers set off a firework in my direction in the street on Bonfire Night around 8 years ago. It missed me thankfully but it was terrifying.”

There were some, but relatively few, reports of injuries. For example:

“My Fiancé was hit by a firework deliberately last Halloween. She had to have X-rays, and needed 9 inner and 8 outer stitches on her calf muscle.”

“I had one thrown directly into my face, causing a burnt forehead and hair.”

“I received a glancing blow from a small firework during my school lunch break. I was aged sixteen but vividly remember the, fortunately, brief sense of searing heat as the firework passed my lower leg. It had been thrown by a boy from a different school. A fine layer of my skin was burnt in a straight line and my tights had a gaping hole. I shall never forget my shock and realisation that I could have been nastily injured.”

“My best friend was struck by a firework that young people were setting off on school grounds (they were deliberately aiming for people). She needed surgery in hospital and suffered from such strong PTSD that she could never come into school for the whole month of November after the incident. Nobody was ever caught or punished for it.”

5. Emergency services workers and medical professionals

676 respondents (2%) identified themselves as current or ex-emergency services workers or medical professionals. Of those, the largest group (276 respondents) identified as current or ex-medical professionals. The next largest group were current or ex-police officers (207). 61 current or ex-firefighters and 58 current or ex-ambulance crew responded to the survey.

When asked whether they had dealt with, or been affected by, ASB involving fireworks, 81% of current or ex-emergency services or medical professional said they had.

Summary of free text comments by respondents who identified as being current or ex-emergency services workers or medical professionals

468 current or ex-emergency services or medical professionals used free-text comments to describe their experiences. Common themes were:

6. Fireworks professionals

180 respondents identified themselves as fireworks professionals, either pyrotechnicians or event organisers (132 respondents) or involved in insurance, trading standards, a local authority or health and safety (48 respondents). We asked these respondents whether there were additional fireworks restrictions they would like to see. 132 respondents used free-text comments to share their views.

There was a diverse range of views. There was significant support for a ban on the sale of fireworks to the general public. There was also support for a new licencing or permit regime for displays and stricter rules about the type of retailers permitted to sell fireworks. For example:

“They should only be available for sale to people hosting display events where you need to apply to the council for a license, this license (even if it is a fee free application) needs to be produced before fireworks from specific retailers can be sold. [ … ] No local shops or supermarkets should be able to sell them, no ‘joe public’ should be able to just walk into a shop and buy them.”

There was some support for raising the minimum age at which people were permitted to buy fireworks (to 21 or 25 years) and support for further restricting the decibel level and other specifications of fireworks available to the general public to buy.

However, many fireworks professionals believed the main problem was with enforcement of the current laws.

“I think to start with the current laws need to be enforced, this applies to misuse and also people selling either legal fireworks illegally i.e. on Facebook and other sites or other distributors in mainland Europe that allow people in the UK to buy and get delivered (sometimes by air mail packaged as something else) fireworks that are illegal here. The age limit could possibly be increased but I am not sure this will still stop the people that misuse them from getting them illegally.”

7. People who don’t believe fireworks are a problem

891 people told us they did not believe fireworks were a problem. We asked this group which of these statements best described their opinion:

688 (74%) of respondents said they believed any problems associated with fireworks were rare; 196 (22%) chose “fireworks are risky, but that’s ok”.

We asked respondents who told us they did not believe fireworks were a problem to choose a category which best described them:

The largest group (471 respondents, 55%) were those who said fireworks were culturally important to them; the next largest group (215, 25%) was those who said fireworks were part of family tradition; only 11 respondents (1% of those who did not believe fireworks were a problem) said that fireworks were an important part of their religious celebrations.





Published: 5 November 2019