3. International regulations on the sale and use of fireworks
This section summarises international regulations on the sale and use of fireworks. It begins by providing an overview of regulations which cover all European Union (EU) member states, before describing the current regulations in the UK and Northern Ireland (NI). The regulations in the United States (US), Canada, Australia and New Zealand are also described.
Fireworks regulations of other EU member states that deviate from the standard EU regulations with tighter or more lenient controls are summarised in Appendix C.
3.1.1. Relevant legislation
There are two EU directives which standardise EU member states' regulations on fireworks:
- Directive 2013/29/EU which sets harmonised rules for fireworks in the EU
- Directive 2014/58/EU which sets up a system for the traceability of fireworks on the market
3.1.2. Manufacture, labelling and supply
Directive 2013/29/EU sets out essential safety requirements for fireworks in the EU. A range of requirements are specified. For example, fireworks must:
- be designed and manufactured in a way that they can be disposed of safely
- function correctly when used for their intended purpose
- be tested under realistic conditions
- only be constructed of materials that minimise risk to health, property and the environment from debris
Under the Directive, fireworks are divided into 4 categories relating to hazard, explosive content, safety distances, noise level etc.:
Table 1: EU firework classification
Fireworks which present a very low hazard, negligible noise level and which are intended for use in confined areas (e.g. sparklers)
Fireworks which present a low hazard and low noise level and which are intended for outdoor use in confined areas
Fireworks which present a medium hazard, which are intended for outdoor use in large open areas and whose noise level is not harmful to human health
Fireworks which present a high hazard, which are intended for use only by persons with specialist knowledge and whose noise level is not harmful to human health
In order to demonstrate compliance with safety requirements, manufacturers must ensure the fireworks undergo conformity assessment procedures.
When compliance has been demonstrated, manufacturers must draw up an EU declaration of conformity and affix the 'CE' marking. Other labelling requirements include:
- Name of manufacturer or importer
- Name and type of article
- Minimum age limit
- Category of article
- Instructions for use
- Explosive quantity/content
- Category F1-F3 fireworks: 'for outdoor use only' and a minimum safety distance
- Category F4 fireworks: 'for use only by persons with specialist knowledge' and minimum safety distance(s)
To ensure pyrotechnic articles are traceable, they must also be labelled with a registration number, which is assigned by the body carrying out the conformity assessment procedure.
3.1.3. Sale, possession and use
Importers and distributors of fireworks must ensure that fireworks available on the market have followed the conformity assessment procedures. In particular, they must verify that fireworks:
- have a registration number;
- include the CE marking;
- are accompanied by the required documents and;
- include instructions and safety information in a language which can be easily understood by consumers.
Minimum age limits for the purchase of each category of firework are also set, which importers and distributers must enforce:
- Category F1: 12 years
- Category F2: 16 years
- Category F3: 18 years
Category F4 fireworks are restricted to professionals throughout the EU. Individual member states are allowed to prohibit the sale, possession and usage of other categories by consumers as well.
Member States must set out penalties for infringements of the laws adopted in light of Directive 2013/29/EU.
3.2. United Kingdom
3.2.1. Relevant legislation
In the UK, there are several Acts of Parliament and regulations which cover the supply, possession and use of fireworks:
- Consumer Protection Act 1987
- Fireworks Act 2003
- Fireworks Regulations 2004, as amended by the Fireworks (Amendment) Regulations 2004
- Fireworks (Scotland) Regulations 2004
- Pyrotechnic Articles (Safety) Regulations 2015
- Explosives Act 1875
- Explosives Regulations 2014
- Product Safety Amendment and Revocation Regulations 2012
- Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
Other relevant legislation includes:
- The Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 (including legislation to tackle excessive noise from fireworks)
- The Animal Welfare Act 2006 (including legislation to promote the welfare of animals)
3.2.2. Manufacture, labelling and supply
The Pyrotechnic Articles (Safety) Regulations 2015 implement the requirements of the EU Directives with regards to manufacturing, importing, storing and selling fireworks. Fireworks in the UK must:
- satisfy the essential safety requirements;
- have been subject to conformity assessment procedure;
- have had the CE marking affixed to them;
- have been properly labelled and;
- not endanger the health and safety of persons.
3.2.3. Sale, possession and use
The Fireworks Regulations 2004 introduced a package of measures to regulate the sale, possession and use of fireworks in the UK. The Regulations apply to England, Wales and Scotland with the exception of Regulation 7 relating to curfews, which is covered by the Fireworks (Scotland) Regulations 2004.
The regulations created a new system which requires those intending to supply fireworks to the public outside the traditional selling periods to hold a licence. The traditional selling periods are:
- November 5 - (from 15th October to 10 November)
- New Year - (from December 26th to 31st)
- Chinese New Year - (on the first day of the Chinese New Year and the 3 days immediately preceding it)
- Diwali - (on the day of Diwali and the 3 days immediately preceding it)
To sell fireworks outwith these periods, a licence must be obtained from the Local Authority at a cost of £500. The penalty for operating without a licence is an unlimited fine and/or up to six months in prison.
The regulations also prohibit supplying the public with category F3 fireworks whose noise levels exceed 120 decibels (dB), in line with the EU standard. In addition, under the Pyrotechnic Articles (Safety) Regulations 2015, a retailer must not sell:
- a Christmas cracker to anyone under the age of 12 years
- F1 category fireworks to anyone under the age of 16 (higher than the EU requirement of 12 years)
- F2 category fireworks to anyone under the age of 18 (higher than the EU requirement of 16)
- F3 category fireworks to anyone under the age of 18
- F4 category fireworks to members of the public
F4 category fireworks are only available to professional fireworks companies with all year insurance and licenced storage.
Under the 2015 Regulations, retailers are also required to display a notice at the point of sale stating the age restrictions on fireworks.
Certain firework items are also banned in the UK. These include bangers, air bombs and jumping jacks, regardless of whether these are CE marked and approved for sale in other EU countries.
With regards to the possession of fireworks, under the Fireworks Regulations 2004 it is an offence for anyone under the age of 18 to possess category F2, F3 and F4 fireworks in a public place. "Public place" includes any place that the public have or are permitted access to, on payment or otherwise. It is also an offence for anyone other than a firework professional to possess category F4 fireworks. The Police can serve a fixed penalty notice of £80 on anyone under the age of 18 possessing a firework in a public place.
The Fireworks Regulations 2004 also impose a curfew on when fireworks can be let off in England and Wales. Specifically, there is an 11pm curfew on the use of fireworks, with later exceptions for seasonal celebrations, including:
- November 5th - midnight curfew
- New Year's Eve - 1am curfew (following day)
- Chinese New Year - 1am curfew (following day)
- Diwali - 1am curfew (following day)
The curfew does not apply to the use of category F1 type fireworks or category F2 sparklers. Local authorities are also permitted to put on displays outside these times for local purposes and for national and commemorative events.
The curfew is enforced by the police, with any breach subject to fines/imprisonment.
In Scotland, under the Fireworks (Scotland) Regulations 2004 fireworks are prohibited from use during night hours (between 23.00 and 07.00). Exceptions to this are as above, plus:
- Local authority employees running local authority firework displays, national public celebrations or national commemorative events
- Other dispensations granted by the local authority
Curfews are enforced by Police Scotland.
In addition, under section 80 of the Explosives Act 1875 (as amended) it is an offence to throw or discharge a firework in a street or public place. This is enforced by the police, and a fixed penalty notice of £80 applies. Fireworks can only be let off on private land (such as a garden) or on land where the landowner has given permission.
3.3. Northern Ireland
3.3.1. Relevant legislation
During the Troubles, fireworks were completely banned in NI, except for public displays. The ban was lifted in 1996 at the time of the parliamentary ceasefire, but in May 2002 new laws were brought in to limit the misuse of fireworks:
- Explosives (Fireworks) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2002 covers the supply, possession, purchase, sale, acquisition, handling and use of fireworks
- Manufacture and Storage of Explosives Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 covers the manufacture and storage of fireworks
This legislation, along with the Pyrotechnic Articles (Safety) Regulations 2015, regulate the sale and use of fireworks in NI.
3.3.2. Manufacture, labelling and supply
The requirements of manufacturers, importers and distributors of fireworks in NI conform to the EU regulations. The packaging of fireworks must be written in English and have the EU standard CE marking printed on it.
Fireworks and their sale and storage is regulated in NI by the Department of Justice (DOJ). Retailers of fireworks must be registered with the DOJ, and can be fined up to £5,000 and/or imprisoned if they sell fireworks without permission from DOJ or breach conditions of their registration. As well as being registered, retailers of fireworks must display their current licence or certificate of registration.
Retailers must also keep a record of all category F2, F3, or F4 fireworks sold including:
- The name and address of the customer
- The date of each sale and the quantity and type of fireworks sold
- The customer's firework licence number
These records must be retained for at least two years and must be available on demand for inspection by a Constable or representative from an enforcing authority.
Some types of fireworks are illegal in NI, including aerial wheels, bangers, batteries, jumping crackers, spinners, mini rockets and shot tubes.
3.3.3. Sale, possession and use
A valid fireworks licence, issued by DOJ, is required for an individual to buy, possess and use most category F2, F3 and F4 fireworks in NI. It is an offence to buy or have fireworks without one. A licence is not required for category F1 fireworks. In line with EU regulations, the general public must not buy or use category F4 fireworks.
A fee must be paid to the DOJ to obtain the licence, with the amount varying by the number of persons attending the fireworks display. Where the number of persons at the fireworks display will be:
- Fewer than 100, the fee is £30
- 100 or more but fewer than 1000, the fee is £80
- More than 1000, the fee is £160
Licences are only valid for the time stated. The DOJ states that it will not normally issue a licence for use between 23:00 and 07:00, though exceptions are sometimes made for New Years' Eve.
The age limits for who can purchase fireworks are in line with the Pyrotechnic Articles (Safety) Regulations 2015. Shops in NI must display a warning notice with these limits.
Fireworks offences carry a maximum fine of £5,000 or a three month prison sentence, or both.
Fireworks regulations of other EU member states, who deviate from the standard EU regulations with tighter or more lenient controls, are summarised in Appendix C.
3.4. The US
3.4.1. Relevant legislation
Federal laws govern the use of fireworks in the US. These are set out in title 27 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The federal law is a minimum standard only and each state is free to enact more stringent laws, meaning that the laws governing consumer fireworks vary widely across the US. The American Pyrotechnics Association maintains a directory of state laws pertaining to fireworks. Counties
and municipalities may also have stricter laws than their states do.
3.4.2. Manufacture, labelling and supply
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) enforces the federal explosives laws and regulations in the US. Fireworks are split into two categories: consumer and display fireworks.
Consumer fireworks are any small firework designed to produce visible effects by combustion. These fireworks, unless restricted by state or local laws, can be sold to the general public.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulates the manufacture and supply of consumer fireworks. In order to be classified as consumer fireworks, the fireworks must be tested by the CPSC and meet requirements with regard to composition, the quantity of pyrotechnic material, and the stability of the product. Consumer fireworks must have prominent warning labels describing the hazard and function of the firework.
Fireworks that do not meet this certification are classified as display fireworks and require a Federal licence which is granted by the ATF.
3.4.3. Sale, possession and use
Forty-six states plus Washington, D.C. allow consumer fireworks in some form. The following states allow the sale and use of small non-aerial and non-explosive fireworks:
- Maryland (except for some counties which only allows snap-and-pop noise makers, snakes, and party poppers)
- New York
- New Jersey
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- District of Columbia
- Vermont (sparklers only)
The sale of these is sometimes restricted to particular periods, such as around the 4th of July. The age limits on these also differ between states (typically between 16-18 years old), and in some cases a permit is required.
In the following states, the majority of consumer fireworks are permitted:
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Many of these states have selling seasons around the 4th of July and/or Christmas and New Year's Eve; Utah also allows the sale and use of fireworks around Pioneer Day, July 24. However, many of these states also allow local laws or regulations to further restrict the types permitted or the selling seasons.
The only state with a complete ban on consumer fireworks is Massachusetts.
3.5.1. Relevant legislation
3.5.2. Manufacture, labelling and supply
Fireworks are separated into three classes:
- Consumer fireworks: low-hazard and designed for recreational use (e.g. roman candles, sparklers, fountains)
- Display fireworks: high-hazard and designed for professional use (e.g. aerial shells, cakes, wheels)
- Special effect pyrotechnics: high-hazard and designed for professional use (e.g. gerbs, mines, comets)
Fireworks that are illegal in Canada include cherry bombs, snaps, m-80 salutes, flash crackers, torpedoes, cigarette loads, trick matches and sprite bombs.
Fireworks are regulated federally by the Explosives Regulatory Division (ERD). It is legal in Canada to purchase a wide variety of consumer fireworks, but all products must be tested and approved by the ERD.
Under the Explosives Act, fireworks offences are punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 2 years; or on indictment, to a fine up to $500,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 5 years.
3.5.3. Sale, possession and use
In Canada, different certificates are required for different fireworks. For display fireworks and special effects pyrotechnics, certification from Natural Resources Canada is required, which involves undertaking safety and awareness courses.
In general, certification from Natural Resources Canada is not required to use consumer fireworks, but regulations regarding the dates when fireworks may be purchased, venues for operating fireworks, and other restrictions are set by the individual provinces and territories. This means that there is variation between provinces and municipalities:
- Alberta: In Calgary, there is a total ban on fireworks. Edmonton allows fireworks, but only upon obtaining a permit first.
- British Columbia: Fireworks can be bought in Vancouver, Burnaby, West Vancouver and North Vancouver, as long as it is within a week of Halloween (and with a permit) and Canada day, but cannot be purchased in Surrey, Richmond, Langley, and Abbotsford, and much of the lower mainland.
- Ontario: Fireworks may be purchased in the two weeks preceding Canada Day and Victoria Day without a permit, and (barring local prohibitions) may be set off on the three days surrounding each holiday without a permit. Some municipalities have allowed fireworks on Diwali.
- Quebec: St. Jean-Baptiste Day is a major fireworks celebration, however the focus is generally on display fireworks as opposed to consumer fireworks. Fireworks are prohibited on the Island of Montreal, though allowed in the rest of the province.
- Atlantic Canada: fireworks are legal and can be used all year round, except on Prince Edward Island.
Under the Explosives Regulations 2013, fireworks cannot be sold to those under 18 years of age.
3.6.1. Relevant legislation
In Australia, the Commonwealth, states and territories are responsible for regulating and enforcing fireworks laws in their jurisdictions.
- New South Wales: the Explosives Act 2003 and Explosives Regulation 2013
- Queensland: the Explosives Act 1999 and the Explosives Regulation 2017
- South Australia: the Explosives Act 1936 and the Explosives (Fireworks) Regulations 2016
- Tasmania: the Explosives Act 2012 and the Explosives (Fireworks) Regulations 2018
- Victoria: the Dangerous Goods Act 1985 and the Dangerous Goods (Explosives) Regulations 2011
- Western Australia: the Dangerous Goods Safety Act 2004 and the Dangerous Goods Safety (Explosives) Regulations 2007
- Australian Capital Territory: the Dangerous Substances Act 2004 and the Dangerous Substances (Explosives) Regulation 2004
- Northern Territory: the Dangerous Goods Act 1998 and the Dangerous Goods Regulations 2012
3.6.2. Manufacture, labelling and supply
Despite the different legislation across states and territories in Australia, most outlaw fireworks. Their sale is illegal in every Australian jurisdiction except the Northern Territory and Tasmania.
3.6.3. Sale, possession and use
In the Northern Territory, fireworks may only be sold and used on the 1st of July in celebration of Territory Day between 5pm-11pm. Any unused fireworks must be surrendered the following day.
Tasmania allows citizens to apply for a permit to use fireworks in certain circumstances. An application must be submitted at least 21 days in advance of the intended display, and at least seven days' notice must be given to police and fire services, landowners and managers of the site, and any neighbours within 1km. The permit carries restrictions on time, length of use, amount of fireworks and supervision. It also ensures minimum distances from spectators and particular buildings like schools and churches. A licence is required for the storage of fireworks if they are not set off the same day as purchase.
In all other states and territories, only small novelties such as party poppers and sparklers are legal, with a licence required to use any other fireworks. Generally, to obtain a licence, the individual must be a pyrotechnician who is over the age of 18 or 21, and has successfully completed training in the safe use of fireworks.
3.7. New Zealand
3.7.1. Relevant legislation
Fireworks are regulated by the Hazardous Substances (Fireworks) Regulations 2001, amended in 2007. The Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2017 are also of relevance.
3.7.2. Manufacture, labelling and supply
Fireworks have a number of requirements that need to be met before they can be manufactured, imported, stored and sold in New Zealand. An application for the approval of fireworks must be made to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), who assess the risks of the firework and determine the controls around it. When the EPA approve the firework, a test certificate is given which confirms the firework meets the requirements of the regulation.
When importing fireworks, an import certificate must be obtained from the EPA for each consignment. A sample of each consignment must also be tested for safety and have a certificate issued by or on behalf of the EPA.
WorkSafe New Zealand is responsible for enforcing the fireworks rules in retail shops, warehouses and other places of work. Councils are responsible for enforcing the sale of fireworks rules when they are sold outside of these places.
3.7.3. Sale, possession and use
Fireworks may only be displayed and sold for the four days leading up to and including the 5th of November. In order to sell fireworks at other times, retailers must seek written approval from the Ministry for the Environment. This is only granted where the fireworks are to be sold for use at a gathering of people held for cultural or religious purposes, and the use of fireworks is a feature of the cultural or religious traditions of people at the gathering.
Although there are restrictions on when fireworks can be sold in New Zealand, fireworks can be used at any time of year. However, many local councils have laws that stop people from lighting fireworks in public places such as parks.
The 2007 amendments to the Hazardous Substances (Fireworks) Regulations have also decreased the explosive content of fireworks sold by retailers. The types of fireworks available to the public are multi-shot 'cakes', Roman candles, single shot shooters, ground and wall spinners, fountains, cones, sparklers, and novelties, such as smoke bombs and pharaoh's serpents. Further, as of 2007, sparklers cannot be sold individually. 50 sparklers must be purchased at a time in packs with at least three other fireworks. This is to prevent the destructive use of sparklers in the form of 'sparkler bombs'.
Fireworks can only be sold to people aged 18 years and over.
If holding an outdoor pyrotechnic display a compliance certificate is necessary. In addition, a certified handler has to be present and responsible for the safe handling and management of the pyrotechnics.