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

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73 page PDF

1.1 MB

Contents
Fireworks regulations - impact: case studies
Australia

73 page PDF

1.1 MB

Australia

Main points 

  • With the exception of the Northern Territory and Tasmania, public use of fireworks is banned in all states and territories.
  • The number of fireworks related offences reported to or becoming known to the police has been markedly lower following the ban on consumer fireworks in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) in 2009. 
  • The number of firework seizures carried out by police in the ACT has been largely unchanged following the fireworks ban. 
  • In the Northern Territory there is no clear indication that the two day sales period enacted in 2003 had an impact on the number of people sustaining fireworks injuries.   
  • Evidence indicates that the number of persons with firework-related injuries declined sharply in 2008 coinciding with the sales period being reduced to one day and the legal purchasing age being raised to 18.  Although any affect appears to have weakened by 2011.
  • Since 2011 there has been no increasing or decreasing trend in the number of people with fireworks-related injuries in the Northern Territory. 
  • The most prevalent recorded fireworks offence in the Northern Territory concerns 'possessing fireworks outside the approved period'. 
  • In recent years, a similar number of firework-related disturbances in the Northern Territory occurred in July (fireworks season) as throughout the rest of the year. 
  • No relevant evidence could be sourced concerning the impact of regulations in Tasmania. 

Current fireworks regulations

Fireworks regulations are devolved to the individual Australian states and territories. With the exception of the Northern Territory and Tasmania, the use of fireworks by the public is banned in all jurisdictions[8], with only small novelties such as party poppers and sparklers legal. Generally speaking[9], only trained and licensed pyrotechnicians are permitted to possess and use fireworks. With the exception of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), the limited available evidence from these jurisdictions can be found in Annex A. The ACT was the latest jurisdiction to prohibit consumer fireworks, with the ban introduced in 2009. Owing to the timing of the ban and availability of evidence, the ACT is included in the main paper- aligned legislative option A.  

In the Northern Territory[10]

  • Consumer fireworks can be bought and used by the public on 01 July only (in celebration of Territory Day)
  • They are only permitted to be bought by persons aged 18 and over, from 9 am to 9 pm and used between 6 pm and 11 pm
  • Consumer fireworks can only be possessed by the public from 9 am on 01 July to 12 noon on 02 July
  • Any consumer fireworks unused during the approved period must be handed into designated offices by 12 noon on 02 July
  • People aged 12 and over can possess consumer fireworks in the Northern Territory
  • Aligned legislative options: D, H

In Tasmania[11]

  • Anyone aged 18 and over can apply for a permit to hold a fireworks display (Type 2) on 'Cracker Night' (24 May)
  • Applications must be submitted at least 21 days in advance
  • WorkSafe Tasmania issues approximately 600 Type 2 permits per year[12]
  • All other firework displays must be conducted by a pyrotechnician endorsed by WorkSafe Tasmania or another regulator and for an 'approved purpose' only e.g. community fair, Chinese New Year etc. 
  • All permit holders (including public 'Cracker Night' permits) must comply with a number of conditions including notifying necessary authorities[13] seven days in advance, holding their display between 6 pm and 10 pm for a maximum of 30 minutes and having the necessary fire equipment on site.
  • Aligned legislative options: B, D, J

No relevant evidence from Tasmania could be sourced for this paper. 

Australian Capital Territory- policy background

From 2002-2008 a number of regulatory changes were made, with each firework season operating under an ever tightening system. By 2008 consumer fireworks could only be sold by licensed sellers to ACT residents aged 18 and over, from 8 am Friday- 5 pm Sunday of the Queen's Birthday weekend (June)[14]. Fireworks could only be used between the hours of 5 pm and 9 pm on the Saturday and Sunday of that weekend, with use generally only permitted in private gardens[15]. Yet evidence suggested that continuing to allow fireworks, while amending and tightening the existing regulations, did not have the desired impact. On the contrary, there was a marked increase in the number of fireworks related complaints (includes discharge of fireworks outside the permitted times, noise and to damage caused by fireworks), fires and dog incidents in 2007 and 2008, with firework sales also rising. Amid growing concerns amongst the ACT community, coupled with the evidence, the ACT government banned the importation, sale and use of consumer fireworks in 2009[16]

Impact of regulations: crime

Australian Capital Policing provided data on the number of firework-related offences reported to or becoming known to the police. The data covers 2005 to 2019, allowing for a comparison before and after the ban on consumer fireworks in 2009. As we can see from Table 1, the number of offences has been markedly lower following the ban. Since the 7 offences recorded in 2010, there has been 3 or fewer offences each year, compared to an average of 18 for 2005-2008.  

Table 1: Firework-related offences reported to or becoming known to the police, 2005-2019

2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Firework-related offences  26 14 11 22 23 7 3 2 3 1 3 3 2 1 2

Source: Australian Capital Policing, PROMIS 

Australian Capital Policing also shared figures detailing the number of firework seizures from 2005 to 2019. This data concerns the number of seizures carried out and is not a measure of the volume of fireworks seized. Table 2 shows that there is no increasing or decreasing trend in the number of seizures conducted by the police. Furthermore, excluding the outliers of 2008 and 2009, the figures have been fairly unchanged following the fireworks ban.

Table 2: Number of firework seizures carried out by police, 2005-2019

2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
Firework seizures  33 26 33 94 80 47 23 26 29 37 31 23 37 15 22

Source: Australian Capital Policing, PROMIS 

Northern Territory- policy background 

In January 1982, the Northern Territory Cabinet considered a submission in relation to public safety and nuisance issues arising from the public use of fireworks. At that time, fireworks could be let off by the public on two occasions each year: Territory Day on 01 July and Guy Fawkes on 05 November. The submission noted that the police, the fire brigade and the Department of Mines and Energy received many complaints regarding the use of fireworks outside the designated hours for the two celebrations. After considering a number of options the submission recommended banning the public sale of fireworks entirely. However Cabinet did not accept the recommendation and instead opted to limit the period in which the public could use fireworks to 01 July only[17]

In 2003 the public sales period was reduced to two days and this was cut further in 2008 to 01 July only. At the same time the legal age to buy fireworks was raised from 16 to 18[18]. The Northern Territory Government has continued to allow permit free public access to consumer fireworks on 01 July, on the basis that it is an important local cultural event- celebrating the anniversary of self-government from the Commonwealth of Australia in 1978. It is an offence for anyone under the age of 12 to be in possession of a fireworks in the Northern Territory[19]. It should also be highlighted that Northern Territory allows the sale and use of bangers, a product which is prohibited in the UK.

Impact of regulations: injuries 

Since 1998 the Northern Territory Centre for Disease Control (CDC) has conducted a yearly survey of patients presenting to acute care health facilities with fireworks-related injuries during the fireworks season (the week around Territory Day)[20]. Data from 1998 to 2019 is outlined in Graph 1.  

From the data we can see that there is no increasing or decreasing trend in the number of persons presenting with firework-related injuries during the fireworks season. Instead, there has been yearly variation. Furthermore, it would appear that the regulations introduced in 2003, which saw the sales window reduced to two days, had no clear effect on the number of people sustaining fireworks injuries. 

Yet, the number of persons with firework-related injuries declined sharply in 2008 coinciding with the sales period being reduced to one day and the legal purchasing age being raised to 18.  The figure dropped from 31 in 2007 to 14 2008, and was 13 in 2009 and 2010. However any 'effect' appears to have weakened by 2011, as the number increased to 28 and remained above the 2009 and 2010 level thereafter (with the exception of 2012). 

The 21 injured persons in 2019 was lower than in 2018 and 2017, when 38 people presented with firework-related injuries, the highest number on record. Following the findings for 2018, as part of its harm minimisation recommendations, the CDC said: "Regulation of sales limits of fireworks for individuals could potentially curb the oversupply and excess fireworks that may be available for use during the week after Territory Day." But the Health Minister stated that the Government had no plans to change Territory Day regulations.[21]  

Graph 1: Number of persons with firework-related injuries in the Northern Territory, 1998-2019*
Graph showing the number of patients presenting with firework-related injuries in fireworks season

Source: The Northern Territory Disease Control Bulletin 1998-2019

*Yearly fireworks season. 

Impact of regulations: crime

Northern Territory Police and the Department of the Attorney General and Justice provided a combined response to a request for information. The data they shared includes recorded offences since 2010 where the offence description is fireworks related[22]. The data is split into offences recorded in July and those recorded in the remainder of the year (Table 3).  

Since 2013 the most common recorded fireworks-related offence has been 'possess fireworks outside approved period.' Focusing only on such offences recorded in July, the figures increased consecutively from 2012 to 2016, before declining. They have returned to 2013 levels in the last couple of years. Offences recorded out-with July were subject to a sizeable increase in 2014 and peaked in 2017. The number almost halved in 2018 and was similar in 2019 but remains higher than pre-2014.  For both July and rest of the year, the number of offences is relatively low[23].

Table 3: Police recorded firework related offences [24] in Northern Territory, 2010-2019
2010 July  2011 July 2012 July  2013 July 2014 July 2015 July 2016 July 2017 July 2018 July 2019 July Total
Throw/ignite/explode firework injure person(s) 0 0 1 0 1 1 1 1 1 1 7
Possess fireworks outside approved period 0 0 9 12 17 19 30 21 11 13 132
Throw/ignite/explode firework outside approved period  0 0 6 9 11 5 9 10 2 5 57
Throw/ignite/explode firework damage property 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 0 0 0 3
Use fireworks without a permit  0 0 1 1 0 1 1 0 0 0 4
Use fireworks at a time not permitted 11 12 10 3 1 4 4 4 2 1 52
Throw/ignite/explode firework injure person(s) 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Possess fireworks outside approved period 0 0 10 6 36 41 40 45 24 28 230
Throw/ignite/explode firework outside approved period  0 0 6 1 11 6 11 8 5 2 50
Throw/ignite/explode firework damage property 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Use fireworks without a permit  0 0 0 0 1 0 2 0 0 0 3
Use fireworks at a time not permitted 14 6 14 2 1 5 4 3 5 3 57

Source: Northern Territory Police and Dept. of the Attorney General and Justice

An alternative measure on which data was provided concerns the number of firework-related disturbances[25], which incorporates police call outs. This data is presented in Graph 2 and is again separated into those incidents occurring in July and the rest of the year.  Comparing 2010 and 2019 shows that the number of firework-related disturbances in July declined from 308 to 270, but during this time the number peaked at 328 in 2018- the 40th anniversary of self-governance.  The number of such incidents occurring out-with the month of July also declined from 2010 to 2019, but likewise peaked in 2018, when there was 316 disturbances. Since 2015, the two have followed a similar trend. From 2017-2019, more incidents occurred in July than in the remainder of the year. 

Graph 2: Firework-related disturbances in Northern Territory, 2010-2019
Graph showing the annual number of police recorded firework-related disturbances

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