Handle fireworks cautiously to prevent injuring yourself and bystanders

Every summer around the 4th of July, emergency rooms across the country treat thousands of firework-related injuries. Learn how to avoid injury while safely enjoying fireworks.

In 2012 the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission released their annual fireworks report for 2011, noting that nationwide an estimated 6,200 of the approximately 9,600 firework-related injuries documented that year were treated in hospital emergency rooms during a one-month period surrounding the Fourth of July (June 17-July 17).   Males incurred 68 percent of these fireworks-related injuries while 32 percent of injuries involved females. Age was also a factor with children younger than 15 accounting for 26 percent of the 2011 injuries. If youth through age 19 are included, this statistic increases to 36 percent of all 2011 firework-related injuries. As might be suspected, sparklers caused the most fireworks-related injuries (36 percent) for children under the age of 5. Parents may consider them relatively safe for small children to handle, not realizing that sparklers have been found to burn at 1800-3000 degrees, approximately the same temperature as a blow torch.

Prevent Blindness America, an eye health and safety organization, reports eyes being the second most commonly injured part of the body by fireworks. Not surprisingly, hands and fingers  are the parts of the body most injured (46 percent) followed by eyes (17 percent), then head, face & ear injuries combined at 17 percent and legs at 11 percent. During 2011, four firewise-related deaths occurred in the U.S.

There were 1,100 fireworks-related eye injuries treated during the one-month Fourth of July period in 2011 with contusions, lacerations, and foreign bodies the most common eye injuries.  Data collected by the U.S. Eye Injury Registry, a federation of state eye injury registries, shows that bystanders are more often injured by fireworks than those actually handling the fireworks with sparklers, novelties, reloadable devices and Roman candles causing the most eye injuries.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends never allowing children to play with fireworks, all persons staying at least 500 feet away when viewing fireworks, and calling the police or fire department rather than touching any unexploded firework remains you might find.

If fireworks results in an eye injury for you or a family member, Prevent Blindness America recommends the following steps to minimize damage and help save eye sight:

  • Do not rub the eye as that may increase bleeding or make the injury worse
  • Do not rinse out the eye and do not apply any ointment
  • Rather than applying pressure to the eye itself, use a foam cup or similar object to protect the eye
  • Go right to the emergency room rather than stopping to take pain medication as both aspirin and ibuprofen can thin blood and actually increase bleeding

They also recommend attending authorized public fireworks displays that are being conducted by licensed operators rather than handling fireworks yourself. However, they do note that even professional firework displays can be dangerous, resulting in injuries and death when a firework malfunction occurs.

If you do choose to handle fireworks yourself, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) suggests that you:

  • Read and follow all warnings and instructions on the fireworks
  • Find out what fireworks are legal to use in your location and observe local laws regarding fireworks use
  • When lighting fireworks use a smooth, flat surface well away from buildings and flammable materials
  • Make sure to have a bucket of water and/or hose nearby in case fireworks malfunction or start a fire when landing
  • If a fireworks fizzles and doesn’t go off as expected, douse it with water rather attempting to re-light it

For more information, check the CPSC website for free safety alerts, guides, posters and other educational materials. You may also call their hotline at 800-638-2772.

Prevent Blindness America also provides a hotline, 800-331-2020, where you may request a copy of their informative booklet, Safe Summer Celebrations, as well as a copy of their Eye Injury Safety Quiz.

You may also wish to visit the Michigan State University Extension website for additional resources about safely enjoying fireworks and other summer activities.  The website offers a variety of informative articles, lists upcoming events that you may find of interest, and provides links that allow you to consult with an MSU Extension expert or order materials from the  MSU Extension Bookstore.

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