Fireworks - How to Have a Safe Fourth

Last Editorial Review: 7/3/2008

Getting together with friends to watch fireworks on the Fourth of July is as American as, well, barbecue and baked beans. But watching fireworks is one thing and handling them is another.

In 2007 nearly 10,000 Americans were treated in emergency rooms for firework-related injuries. Eleven of these people did not survive their injuries.

  • Five people were killed in incidents involving aerial and display fireworks.

  • Three people died in fires where the fireworks were the ignition source.

  • Three people were killed as a result of manufacturing or storing illegal fireworks.

The National Mall, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reported that 64 percent of these injuries occurred during the one month period surrounding the July 4th holiday.

Who is most likely to be injured by fireworks?

  • Forty-two percent of those treated for fireworks injuries are children under the age of 15.

  • Males represent 70% of all injuries.

  • Children and young adults under 20 years of age have the highest estimated injury rate for fireworks-related injuries (54%).

  • Persons who are actively participating in fireworks-related activities are more frequently injured, and sustain more severe injuries, than bystanders.

When and where do these injuries happen?

  • Injuries occur on and around holidays associated with fireworks celebrations, especially July 4th and New Year's Eve. 

  • Most of these injuries occur in homes. Other common locations include recreational settings, streets or highways, and parking lots or occupational settings

What kinds of injuries occur?

  • Among the different types of fireworks, sparklers were associated with the greatest number of estimated injuries at 1,100. There were 1,000 injuries associated with firecrackers and 900 associated with rockets.

  • The parts of the body most often injured were hands, eyes, and legs.

  • More than half of the injuries were burns. Burns were the most common injury to all parts of the body except the eyes and head area, where contusions, lacerations, and foreign bodies in the eye occurred more frequently.

  • Fireworks also can also cause life-threatening residential fires

How and why do these injuries occur?

Availability: In spite of federal regulations and varying state prohibitions, "class C" and "class B" fireworks are often accessible by the public. It is not uncommon to find fireworks distributors near state borders, where residents of states with strict fireworks regulations can take advantage of more lenient state laws.

Fireworks type: Among class 1.4G (class C) fireworks, which are sold legally in some states, bottle rockets can fly into the face and cause eye injuries; sparklers can ignite clothing (sparklers burn at more than 2,000°F, 1093.3°C); and firecrackers can injure the hands or face if they explode at close range.

Being too close: Injuries may result from being too close to fireworks when they explode; for example, when someone bends over to look more closely at a firework that has been ignited, or when a misguided bottle rocket hits a person nearby.

Unsupervised use: Children are more likely to be injured by fireworks if they are unsupervised.

Lack of physical coordination: Younger children often lack the physical coordination to handle fireworks safely.

Curiosity: Children are often excited and curious around fireworks, which can increase their chances of being injured (for example, when they re-examine a firecracker dud that initially fails to ignite). 

Experimentation: Homemade fireworks (for example, ones made of the powder from several firecrackers) can lead to dangerous explosions).

Here are some general fireworks safety tips to remember from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission:

  • Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks.

  • Make sure fireworks are legal in your area before buying or using them.

  • Avoid buying fireworks that come in brown paper packaging, as this can often be a sign that the fireworks were made for professional displays and could pose a danger to consumers.

  • Adults should always supervise fireworks activities. Parents often don't realize that there are many injuries from sparklers to children under five. Sparklers burn at temperatures of about 2,000°F (1093.3°C) - hot enough to melt some metals.

  • Never have any portion of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse. Move back a safe distance immediately after lighting.

  • Never try to re-light or pick up fireworks that have not fully functioned.

  • Never point or throw fireworks at another person.

  • Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap.

  • Light one item at a time, then move back quickly.

  • Never carry fireworks in a pocket or shoot them off in metal or glass containers.

  • After fireworks fully complete their functioning, douse the spent device with plenty of water from a bucket or hose before discarding to prevent a trash fire.

Safety while watching public fireworks

Celebrate America's birthday safely by attending only professional fireworks displays. It's safer, cheaper and more impressive. Respect barriers set up by the professionals who are putting on the show. Bystanders suffer about 25% of all fireworks-related injuries. If you stand 500 feet away, you'll be safe (and you'll have the best possible view).


What are bed bugs? See Answer

If you do plan to set off your own fireworks, you need to know the difference between legal consumer fireworks and dangerous explosives. Class 1.3G fireworks are illegal in the US without an appropriate ATF license/permit and punishable by up to five years in prison. If you see an item called an M-80, M-100, Cherry Bombs, Silver Salutes, or Quarter Sticks, these are against the law and usually bear no manufacturer's label. Illegal mail order kits contain chemical mixtures that can explode unexpectedly and violently. M-80s, cherry bombs and quarter sticks are so highly explosive that they have been banned by Federal law since 1966. They can cause injury or even death. Check with your local fire department to learn what fireworks can be legally set off in your area.

NEVER give fireworks to a young child. Sparklers are not safe for children! They burn at a temperature hot enough to melt gold (2,000°F, 1093.3°C). Also, used sparkler wires are especially dangerous at night. These must be disposed of into a container away from children and bare feet!

Bottle Rockets are the most dangerous consumer firework. They fly erratically and can shower spectators with glass, metal and shrapnel.

If you're putting on the fireworks display yourself, use a transparent mask or glasses made of a strong material such as polycarbonate. Even spectators should wear protective gear. If someone does sustain an eye injury, don't touch it. Get medical help immediately.

To avoid the possibility of injury, consider a public fireworks display. The risk of blindness or other injury isn't worth the thrill of handling your own fireworks. If you see a professional show, the only thing you'll have to do is finish the barbecue, wait for dark and let the show begin.

Portions of the information in this article have been provided by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the Centers for Disease Control (

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors