Publication - Research and analysis

Fireworks regulations - impact: case studies

Published: 3 Nov 2020

This paper consists of seven case studies, each one aligned to one or more of the legislative options being considered by the Firework Review Group.

73 page PDF

1.1 MB

73 page PDF

1.1 MB

Contents
Fireworks regulations - impact: case studies
Northern Ireland

73 page PDF

1.1 MB

Northern Ireland

Main points 

  • Following the introduction of a licensing system in 2002, there was an immediate marked reduction in the number of people sustaining injuries caused by fireworks[64], down from 136 in 2001 to 38 in 2002, a 72% decrease. 
  • Rigorous evidence shows that since the introduction of a licensing system, the number of persons injured by fireworks has tended to be lower compared to before the regulations were enacted.  
  • The number of recorded offences for buying/possessing/using fireworks without a valid licence increased consecutively from 2006 to 2011. Since then there has been no clear trend, although the figures have remained below the 2011 peak. 
  • Data from 2001 to 2019 shows that there is no increasing or decreasing trend in the number of police officers struck by fireworks. This suggests that there is no clear indication that the licensing system has impacted on the number of officers being struck by fireworks.
  • The number of anti-social behaviour (ASB) incidents with an accompanying fireworks code has been fairly consistent in recent years, with no increasing or decreasing trend. 
  • The lack of time series data means it is not possible to assess the effect of the licensing system on the number and nature of firework-related incidents attended by the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service. The data available shows that the majority of such incidents occur in October and November.

Current fireworks regulations [65] 

  • A valid fireworks licence (issued by the Department of Justice for NI) is required for the public to buy, possess and use most F2 (garden) and F3 (display) fireworks. It is an offence to do so without a licence. 
  • A fee must be paid to obtain a licence, with the amount dependent on the number of people attending the display:
    • less than 100 attendees, £30 fee
    • more than 100 but less than 1,000 attendees, £80 fee
    • more than 1,000 attendees, £160 fee
  • A licence is only valid for the time stated
  • Persons must be aged 18 and over to buy F2 and F3 fireworks
  • Persons must show their licence to a retailer when purchasing fireworks
  • It is illegal for fireworks to be sold from premises not licensed/registered by the Department of Justice (retailers are required to display their certificates of registration at the point of sale)
  • Aligned legislative option: B, J

Policy background 

Firework regulations in Northern Ireland have historically been amongst the strictest in the world and have been heavily influenced by the country's unique security situation. During the Troubles there was a total ban on fireworks with the exception of public displays. This ban was lifted in 1996, coinciding with the paramilitary ceasefire. However following a number of cases of fireworks being misused as weapons (especially against the police), the Security Minister announced a review of firework's policy in October 2001 and in May 2002 regulations requiring persons to obtain a licence to use garden (F2) and display (F3) fireworks came into effect through the Explosives (Fireworks) Regulations (NI) 2002. The tightening of regulations was generally welcomed by the public and politicians alike. Fireworks offences carry a maximum fine of £5,000 and/or a three month prison sentence. 

Impact of regulations: injuries 

To help assess the effectiveness of legislative changes, an annual survey of fireworks injuries (persons injured directly by fireworks and treated at emergency care departments during the four week Halloween period[66]) was carried out by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (in conjunction with partners) from 1996 to 2015. The statistical release was discontinued in 2016 following a National Statistical Review. Time series data is presented in Graph 12

Following the introduction of the new legislation in 2002, there was a significant reduction in the number of persons injured by fireworks, from 136 in 2001 to 38 in 2002, a fall of 72%. With the exception of a spike in 2007, the number of persons injured by fireworks has been much lower since 2002 compared to when no licence was required. Between 1996 and 2015, the number of persons injured from fireworks and presenting at emergency departments decreased from 202 to 15, a fall of 93%.  

Graph 12: Number of person injured by fireworks during the Halloween period, 1996-2015
Graph showing the number of people injured directly by fireworks and treated at hospital during the Halloween period

Source: Firework Injury Statistics, 2015

Impact of regulations: crime 

Following an FOI request, the Police of Service Northern Ireland (PSNI) shared data concerning the number of recorded offences for buying/possessing/using fireworks[67] without a valid licence[68] from 2005 to 2019 and this is shown in Graph 13.  The graph shows that the number of recorded offences increased year-on-year from 2006 to 2011, peaking at 191, before declining until 2014. The number of offences stablisied from 2015 to 2017 before increasing in 2018 and 2019, but it is too soon to say whether these increases are the beginnings of a trend. 

Graph 13: Recorded offences of buying/possessing/using fireworks without a valid licence, 2005-2019
Graph showing the annual number of police recorded offences for buying/possessing/using fireworks without a valid licence

Source: PSNI

As part of the FOI response PSNI also provided the number of recorded offences of people selling fireworks without a valid licence[69] from 2007 to 2019. As detailed in Table 13, there is no identifiable trend and there has been 10 or fewer offences each year since 2013.  

Table 13: Number of recorded offences of selling fireworks without a valid licence, 2007-2019
2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Offences- selling fireworks without a valid licence  3 6 15 22 10 11 6 1 6 8 3 2 10

Source: PSNI 

Impact of regulations: police safety

Separate from the FOI response PSNI shared data concerning the number of accident/incident/near miss reports submitted by police officers as a result of being struck by fireworks from 2001 to 2019. As we can see from Table 14, 35 reports were submitted in 2002, the year in which the current regulations were introduced, an increase of 33 on 2001. Looking at the time series, there is no increasing or decreasing trend, instead the numbers tend to vary annually, although they have shown signs of stabilising in recent years. The table also shows that there has been a couple of spikes across the time series, with 58 officers struck by fireworks in 2012. 

From the data there is no clear indication that the licensing system has had an impact on the number of officers being struck by fireworks.  PSNI noted that such occurrences normally take place during times of public disorder. It is important to consider that the data only includes police officers who submitted a report and therefore the true number of officers struck by fireworks may be higher.

Table 14:  Number of police officers struck by fireworks*, 2001-2019
2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Police officers struck by fireworks   2 35 7 2 21 2 1 1 7 3 22 58 29 0 3 0 1 1 2

Source: PSNI
* Measured by number of reports submitted by police officers as a result of being struck by fireworks.

Impact of regulations: anti-social behaviour

PSNI also provided figures on the number of anti-social behaviour (ASB) incidents which also include a fireworks code, from 2011/12 (earliest data available) to 2019/20. Fireworks codes include inappropriate use of fireworks, unlawful sale or possession of fireworks and noise created by fireworks[70]. Table 15 shows that there is no increasing or decreasing trend in the total number of ASB incidents with a fireworks code, however that's not to say that there might be a pattern if the data were disaggregated into the specific firework codes mentioned above. Whilst there has been small annual changes, the number of ASB incidents with a fireworks code has been somewhat consistent in recent years. 

Table 15: Number of ASB incidents including a fireworks code, 2011/12-2019/20
2011/12 2012/13 2013/14 2014/15 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19 2019/20
Number of ASB incidents including a fireworks code  1,387 1,191 674 815 1,012 997 1,328 1,175 1,423

Source: PSNI

Impact of regulations: fire service 

Following a FOI request the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) provided data concerning firework-related incidents from 2015 to 2019. Whilst the lack of time series data means it is not possible to assess the effect of the licensing system on the number and nature of such incidents, the information is included for context. As we can see from Table 16, between 2015 and 2019 the NIFRS dealt with 40 firework-related incidents. The number of such incidents has been fairly consistent (varying from 6-8) with the exception of 2018, when there 12. Unsurpsingly the majoirty of these incidents occurred in October and November, coinciding with Halloween and Guy Fawkes. The table also detials the type of firework-related incidents dealt with by the NIFRS during this time. As we can see, a little over half (53%) were categorised as false alarms whilst a further 16 (40%) were major fires. 

In addition, Table 16 includes figures on the total number of support vehicles and crew in attendance at the 40 firework-related incidents recorded from 2015-2019. During this time 30 support vehciles and 378 crew attended these incidents, with an average (median) of 9 crew attending each fireworks-related incident. The number of crew on site ranged from 5 to 23. Only total figures were provided for these breakdowns. 

Table 16: Firework-related incidents attended by NIFRS, 2015-2019
2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 Total 
Firework-related incidents  6 8 8 12 6 40
Firework-related incidents occurring in October & November 4 (67%) 7 (88%) 4 (50%) 8 (67%) 3 (50%) 26 (65%)
False alarm  3 2 4 9 3 21
Major fire (dwelling and other)  2 6 2 3 3 16
Secondary fire 1 0 1 0 0 2
Specialist service call 0 0 1 0 0 1
Support vehicles in attendance  - - - - - 30
Crew in attendance  - - - - - 378

Source: Northern Ireland Fire and Rescure Service, FOI Request
- denotes that annual data was not availble 


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