Occupational Health for the Pyrotechnics Industry

As the Fourth of July draws near, fireworks will be seen and heard in almost every city across the United States. On average, Americans spend approximately $1.5 billion on Fourth of July firework displays. Fireworks and pyrotechnics can be extremely dangerous, even for those who are trained in the field. According to a 2013 study done by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, approximately 11,400 injuries due to pyrotechnics occurred in 2013, which is nearly 4,000 more than the previous year. It is important for pyrotechnics professionals and employers to know and implement proper safety measures and procedures to provide the best occupational health for the pyrotechnics industry.

Occupational Health for Retail Sales of Pyrotechnics

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) compiled a list of guidelines for the manufacturing, production, and distribution of pyrotechnics and fireworks in different settings. Here are the general guidelines for keeping up occupational health and safety for the retail sale of pyrotechnics:

  • Obtain the necessary state, and local permits, licenses, and inspections
  • Post and enforce no smoking within 50 feet of fireworks sales areas.
  • Post and implement no fireworks discharge within 300 feet of fireworks retail sales facilities and stores.
  • Maintain clear exit routes with a minimum of two ways out from every point.
  • Exit doors:
  • should not be locked when occupied;
  • should swing outward;
  • should not be obstructed; and
  • should have panic hardware if they latch (except for temporary stands).
  • Fire extinguishers should be operational and accessible. At least one should be a water type.
  • Secure (lock) the facility when closed, and fireworks remain.
  • Remove damaged fireworks and loose pyrotechnic composition promptly and dispose of them properly. Use non-sparking cleaning tools, not vacuum cleaners.
  • Maintain fixed fire protection features (i.e., keep fire doors closed).
  • Maintain required flame breaks in the retail sales displays unless the facility is sprinkled or temporary.
  • Maintain visual supervision of the fireworks sales area.
  • Do not store combustibles directly above fireworks displays unless adequately separated.
  • Do not use open flames or heating devices with exposed elements.
  • Participate in safety training.
  • Aerial devices and audible ground devices require special attention and treatment.

Occupational Health for Display Fireworks

OSHA warns that there are many dangers associated with setting up and setting off firework displays. Only those trained in pyrotechnics should plan and set off large firework displays. OSHA published several checklists that should be followed by fireworks display operators and other affected employees.

Pre-Display Checklist

The following is a list of tasks compiled by OSHA that should be completed prior to a large fireworks display:

  • Obtain required Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) licenses and permits.
  • If setting off fireworks near a large body of water, obtain U.S. Coast Guard approval.
  • If setting off fireworks near an airport or heliport, obtain Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval.
  • To protect passenger and cargo planes, ensure pilots are warned by issuing a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM).
  • Arrange for fire service and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to be available for the display.
  • Obtain the required or appropriate insurance.
  • Establish site security before the arrival of pyrotechnic materials.
  • Protect all fireworks, pyrotechnic materials, and launching equipment from inclement weather and keep them dry at all times.
  • Prohibit smoking material, matches, lighters, or open flames within 50 feet of fireworks or pyrotechnic material.
  • Only necessary personnel required to perform the display setup and show shall be allowed at the display site.
  • Prohibit persons in the display site who are under the influence of alcohol, narcotics, or medication that could adversely affect judgment, mobility, or stability.
  • No cell phones or radio frequency (RF) generating devices should be used within the immediate discharge area while electrically ignited fireworks or pyrotechnic devices are prepared, loaded, or set up.
  • Wear personal protective equipment (PPE)  appropriate for setup duties.
  • Make sure all mortars, mortar racks, bundles, pre-loaded box items, cakes, candles, and ground displays have been thoroughly inspected and deemed inherently stable.
  • Avoid placing any portion of your body over mortars during loading, wiring, or igniting and immediately after the display has been fired.
  • Use safe handling and loading procedures for all pyrotechnic devices.

Display Checklist

Just before, during, and after the display, be sure to follow these procedures to ensure the occupational health of those working in the pyrotechnics industry:

  • Verify fire service and EMS units are available and ready to respond.
  • Establish good communications between crew, event sponsor, AHJ, and fire service/EMS units.
  • Maintain crowd control, utilizing monitors and/or barriers.
  • Use all required personal protective equipment, especially protection for the head, eye, hearing, and foot.
  • Wear long-sleeved and long-legged clothing made of cotton, wool, or similar flame-resistant cloth.
  • Avoid placing any portion of your body over mortars when manually igniting them.
  • Comply with directions given by the AHJ, spotter(s), or fire/EMS units.
  • Use only flashlights or other non-incendive lighting in firing and ready box areas.

Post-Display Checklist

After the display, make it a priority to check all of the individual fireworks to ensure they were properly set off and are no longer active. Follow these guidelines for staying safe while cleaning up after a fireworks display:

  • Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) appropriate for cleanup duties.
  • Disable any electric firing switches and disconnect all electric cables.
  • After at least 15 minutes, conduct a search of the display and fallout areas.
  • Follow proper marking and warning procedures for unexploded shells.
  • Ensure that all unused live products and duds are accounted for, properly handled, repackaged, and secured according to Federal, State, and local regulations.
  • Conduct a second site search at the first light.

If you or a loved one works in the pyrotechnics industry, take precautions and stay safe on the job!

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