Regulation of fireworks
As fireworks are explosives, there are strict laws governing the sale, possession and use of them. The House of Commons Library has published a briefing paper, providing a detailed overview of the current provisions.
Since January 2005, the sale of fireworks to the public has been prohibited, except from licensed traders. There are exceptions, and unlicensed traders can sell fireworks for Chinese New Year and the three days prior, Diwali and the proceeding three days, Bonfire Night (15 October to 10 November) and for New Year (26 to 31 December).
It is an offence to use fireworks after 11pm and before 7am without permission. On permitted fireworks nights, the times are extended.
Fireworks made or imported into Great Britain must be manufactured to specific standards. The Pyrotechnic Articles (Safety) Regulations 2015 set out the requirements to be met and aimed to improve the safety of the pyrotechnic articles available.
The Regulations ensure:
- the obligations of manufacturers, importers and distributors are clearly stated;
- that pyrotechnic articles on the market are easier to trace; and
- that there is a more structured market surveillance regime.
Before being placed on the market, the article must be categorised according to its type of use or purpose and level of hazard. Essential safety requirements are set out for each category, including safety distances and maximum noise levels.
The categories are:
- F1 – fireworks presenting a very low hazard and negligible noise level. These are intended for use in confined areas, including inside domestic buildings.
- F2 – fireworks presenting a low hazard and low noise level intended for use in outdoor confined areas, such as a garden.
- F3 – fireworks presenting a medium hazard, intended for outdoor use in large open areas, where noise level is not harmful to human health.
- F4 – fireworks presenting a high hazard intended for use only by persons with specialist knowledge and whose noise level is not harmful to human health.
Many of the obligations on importers are set out separately from those of the manufacturers. An importer cannot place a pyrotechnic article on the market in Great Britain unless it conforms with the essential safety requirements. Additional obligations include checking the manufacturer:
- has carried out the correct conformity assessment procedures;
- has drawn up the technical documentation;
- has applied the UKCA mark; and
- has labelled the article correctly and provided the required documentation.
The key obligations of distributors, which includes retailers, are to:
- keep records of economic operators who have supplied them or who they have supplied for ten years;
- make sure they take action to address any non-conformity of articles by bringing in into conformity or recalling or withdrawing it from sale (and informing the market surveillance authority);
- ensure point of sale material is clear that F2 and F3 firework can only be sold to over 18s.
Fireworks placed on the market before 1 January 2021
These fireworks can continue to circulate on the market until they are eventually sold and do not need to comply with the changes that took effect from 1 January.
Fireworks placed on the market after 1 January 2021
After this date, the UKCA mark is the conformity assessment mark for fireworks on the GB market. Fireworks that meet the CE mark (EU requirements) can be placed in the market until 31 December 2022. The UKCA mark must be used on all fireworks placed on the market from 1 January 2023.
The Explosives Regulations 2014, supported by a central guidance document, deal with the purchase and storage of fireworks. The legal requirements are:
- up to 50kg of type 4 fireworks can be kept for no longer than 21 days without a licence, only if they are not offered for sale or use at work;
- up to 100kg of type 3 fireworks, for fireworks for a commercial display or work activity, can be kept for up to five days without a licence, as long as they are stored in their intended place of use;
- a licence is required from a local licensing authority for larger quantities or more powerful fireworks;
- a licence is required to buy more than 50kg of fireworks.
The sale in shops is strictly limited to the seasonal periods set out above unless the retailer is licensed. Licences are obtained from the local authority subject to strict criteria, and the penalty for sales without a licence is a fine or six months imprisonment.
The sale of excessively loud fireworks, those of category F3 when noise levels exceed 120 decibels, to the public is prohibited. Also prohibited are sales of:
- Christmas crackers to anyone aged under 12;
- category F1 fireworks to anyone aged under 16;
- category F2 and F3 fireworks to anyone aged under the age of 18; and
- category F4 fireworks to any member of the public (sales are only permitted to a person with specialist knowledge).
Category F4 fireworks are only available to professional fireworks companies with insurance and licensed storage. There is no licence or training that entitles a member of the public to purchase them.
It is an offence under the Fireworks Act 2004 for:
- anyone under the age of 18 to possess any category F2, 3 or 4 fireworks in a public place;
- anyone other than a firework professional to possess category F4 fireworks.
The police can serve a fixed penalty notice on anyone under the age of 18 for possession of a firework in a public place.
Additionally, under section 134 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017, it is an offence to possess a pyrotechnic article at a qualifying music event. The maximum penalty is three months imprisonment and/or a fine.
Fireworks can be set off until 11pm; the police enforce the curfew, and any breach can lead to a fine or six months imprisonment. Alternatively, a fixed penalty notice can be issued.
The curfew time is midnight on November 5th and 1am on New Year’s Day (to allow the fireworks at midnight on New Year’s Eve); this is also the case for Chinese New Year and Diwali. The curfew is not applicable to category F2 sparklers or F1 fireworks.
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[Image credit: “fireworks” by bvalium is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 ]