Keeping the crowds safe on Bonfire Night

Crowd Safety’s Steve Allen (right) on how to keep attendees safe during this weekend’s Bonfire Night events.

As much fun as it is, Bonfire Night celebrations can, in some instances, pose a risk to public safety due to the increased likelihood of fires, burns, smoke, injuries and even public order issues. In London, calls to fire fighting services are nearly tripled on Bonfire Night.

Fireworks displays are, on the whole, an enjoyable occasion and a great family outing, but they do require significant planning, management and resources. As an event organiser you are ultimately responsible for the safety of all the event attendees, so reducing risks to a tolerable level, should be your highest priority.

Here are some things to consider before the firework display.

Venue
What is the safe capacity for the venue? Is the venue suitable for the projected attending crowd? How will the fireworks be transported, stored and secured on site?

Ensure the site is suitable and large enough for the planned display. Fireworks can travel at speeds of up to 150mph, so check that there is space for the fireworks to land well away from spectators. Also take into account the direction of the prevailing wind. Ideally you want the site to be no less than 25 metres from buildings, trees, wooden fences, overhead cables, car parking areas or other fireworks displays. The site also needs to have a suitable entrance for any emergency vehicles.

Underfoot conditions, power lines above, pathways, lighting and car park arrangements must be adequate with sufficient resources in place to effectively manage these areas and contingencies (such as a power failure). Site visits must be conducted in daylight to enable the proper identification of hazards.

Events require planning proportionate to the risk. The larger the event, the more planning required. Large events require more planning inclusive of designated areas for spectators, safety areas, firing areas, fall out areas, types of fireworks to be used, anticipated crowd numbers, meetings with the emergency services and local authority and sourcing competent contractors to assist you. Your team should be well informed and experienced in dealing with incidents, synonymous with crowd management, particularly the risks associated with family events.

If alcohol is available at the event, the bar must be located as far from the display as possible. You should also notify the local residents, and neighbouring landowners of the display as well as the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and Coastguard where necessary.

Consideration must be given to how you will announce the event has reached its safe capacity, as a number of firework events rely on ‘walk up’ sales.

Fireworks staff
Consider who is going to operate the display. You can light the display yourself as long as you only use fireworks in categories 1, 2 and 3. Only professional firework display operators can use category 4 fireworks.

Fireworks
Choosing the right fireworks is important. Safety distances should influence this decision and always buy them from reputable suppliers. Category 1, 2 and 3 fireworks are those available from fireworks retailers and which are on sale to the general public. Category 1 fireworks can be used indoors. Category 2, also known as garden fireworks, require the smallest distance of 5 metres if the firework are classified to British Standards. Category 3 items, also known as display fireworks, require the greatest distance, which is 25 meters. Category 4 fireworks are for professional use only and often include aerial shells and other items banned for sale to the public.

No fireworks should be sold at your event.

Family display
Consideration should be given to having a family display (factoring that pushchairs and buggies occupy more space) and associated issues of crowds leaving, whilst others may be entering or families deciding to stay for the larger display.

What needs checking on the day of the event?
On the day of the event, your primary actions should include re-checking the site and making sure it’s ready for the display and checking the weather conditions and wind direction. A sudden change of wind direction or strength could cause aerial fireworks to fall dangerously among spectators. In very windy weather, you should consider cancelling the display altogether, however disappointing that might be. Always remember, safety comes first as the consequences of a major incident, far outweigh a cancelled event.

You certainly want to avoid a similar scenario to the accident on 4th November 2011 where a multiple-vehicle collision occurred on the M5 motorway near Taunton. Seven people were killed and 51 others were injured, making the pile-up the deadliest on a British motorway since the minibus crash on the M40 in 1993. The organiser was operating a fireworks display for Guy Fawkes Night at Taunton Rugby Club’s ground, which is adjacent to the motorway. The organiser was charged with seven counts of manslaughter.

All of the access to the firing zone should be restricted allowing only the display operator, or firing team, being granted access. Signage, fencing and staff should be positioned to endorse the restricted area with appropriate measures in place for any contingencies.

We would recommend suitable information is advertised on all social media platforms and websites as well as on event signage, informing members of the public of the unpermitted items allowed into the event supported by a random search as a condition of entry.

If your event includes lighting the bonfire you must ensure that the structure is safe and that empty flammables aren’t used. You should only have one person responsible for lighting the bonfire. That person, and any helpers, should wear suitable clothing such as outer garment made of wool or other low-flammable material. Make certain your team members know what to do in the event of a burn injury or clothing catching fire. Don’t try to relight fireworks and keep away from fireworks that have failed to go off. Ensure you have appropriate measures in place for fireworks that have not ignited.

Although it is not required under health and safety law, it is strongly recommended if you are holding a public firework display, to have suitable public liability insurance in place.

If you follow these steps and our advice your event should be a safe, successful and enjoyable for all involved. Happy Bonfire Night!

 

Steve Allen is the founder of Crowd Safety. You can find more info about the company at www.crowdsafety.org.