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

Fireworks regulations - impact: case studies

73 page PDF

1.1 MB


Main points 

  • A three year study of fireworks-related eye injuries sustained over the New Year period found that minors were disproportionally affected and the majority of those injured were bystanders, leading the study to raise concerns as to whether existing regulations are sufficient. 
  • The public use of fireworks on 31 December and 01 January (the only permitted time) contributes to a spike in fine-particle emissions. 
  • Anecdotally, authorities in Berlin and Munich have reflected positively on the introduction of firework free zones for New Year's Eve and they will remain inforce going forward.
  • There is no apparent increasing or decreasing trend in the volume (Kg) of firework imports. 

Current fireworks regulations

  • F2 fireworks can only be sold on the last three days of the year to those aged 18 and over (since 1986)
  • F2 fireworks can only be lit on 31 December and 01 January, but not within the immediate vicinity of churches, hospitals, children's homes or old people's homes (since 1977) 
  • Although fireworks are regulated at a federal level, cities and municipalities have the authority to impose tighter restrictions on the sale and use of fireworks
  • Some cities including Berlin, Munich and Hamburg have recently enforced a number of firework free zones on 31 December and 01 January
  • F3 and F4 fireworks can only be imported and used by licensed professionals
  • Aligned legislative options: D, F, H

Policy background 

It is long-standing tradition in Germany to see-in the New Year with the private use of fireworks, with an estimated €130 million spent on legal fireworks in 2018[31]. However recent environmental and public safety concerns coupled with the strain on the emergency services has resulted in a number of cities imposing more stringent restrictions on the use of consumer fireworks. Although the Federal Government has given no indication that national restrictions are to be reviewed, a 2019 YouGov poll[32] found that 57% of respondents were in favour of banning the public use of fireworks on New Year's Eve[33]

Impact of regulations: eye injuries 

A three year study of patients treated at emergency eye clinics over the New Year period[34] from 2016/17 to 2018/19, concludes that its findings raise doubts as to whether existing fireworks regulations and their implementation are sufficient to protect people[35]. During the study period 1,356 people were treated for eye injuries caused by fireworks. Each year, around a third (ranging from 33%-39%) of those injured were minors (0-17 years), meaning they are significantly over-represented compared to their share of German population (around 14%[36]). Looking at the study period as whole, 60% of patients were bystanders and the same proportion were aged under 25 years. A study of New Year's firework eye injury patients at a clinic in Leipzig from 2007 to 2017, also found that the majority of those treated were bystanders[37]

Impact of regulations: environmental 

According the Federal Environment Agency (UBA), fine-particle emissions spike in the days after the New Year's Eve, a consequence in part of the public use of fireworks during this time. Around 4,200 tons of fine particulate (dust) matter is released into the air by fireworks over the course of the New Year's celebrations, equating to about 2% of the total amount of fine dust released annually in Germany[38]. This amounts to as much as a quarter of the particle emissions given off yearly by all wood-fires in the country and is equivalent to two months of road traffic emissions.  The UBA analysis further shows that in many parts of Germany, on 01 January air pollution with harmful fine dust is higher than it is throughout the year. In 2018/19, the extremely high concentrations of fine dust matter in the first hours of the New Year meant that approximately 10% of all measuring stations exceeded the daily mean values of 50 µg / m³. At numerous measuring stations, one of the 35 permissible exceedance days was 'used up' during this time[39][40]

Impact of regulations: firework free zones

Reflecting on the introduction of two firework free zones[41] in 2019, Berlin Police have noted that the enforcement of the ban has been successful, with violations largely prevented. During New Year's Eve 2019/20, 88 people trying to enter the zones with fireworks voluntarily handed them over at designated checkpoints. A further 530 people refused to hand over their fireworks and were consequently refused access to the area. In these cases of voluntary surrender and/or voluntary departure from the prohibited area, the purpose of averting danger was achieved; thus no follow-up measures were necessary. The firework free zones were met with a positive reaction by local residents. The movement of firework activities to other areas could not be ascertained or connected with the firework free zones. There were however areas in Berlin where fireworks were improperly set off. The Berlin Police conclude that the zones have generally proven their worth and are suitable for ensuring public safety and order in recognised problem areas, notwithstanding the extra resources required[42].

A similar positive experience was reported in Munich, where firework free zones were introduced for the first time on New Year's Eve 2019/20. During the course of the celebrations there were no significant public health and safety incidents within the prohibited zones and only a small number of violations were recorded by the Munich Police Department. Most likely, the district firework free zones will be in place for New Year's Eve 2020/2021. Since authorities are not aware of any other focal points that would justify an extension of the prohibition zone, there are no plans to extend the measures to other areas of the city[43]

Impact of regulations: imports 

The World Bank publishes figures on fireworks imports[44] via the World Integrated Trade Solution database. The volume (Kg) of German gross fireworks imports from 1999 to 2018 is presented in Graph 5. It is important to note that this incorporates all firework imports, not just those for public use. As we can see there is no increasing or decreasing trend in the volume of German firework imports. The figure was fairly stable between 2006 and 2011. Since 2014 the volume of imports has been consistently higher than in earlier years, with the figure peaking in 2018 at 45,975,600 Kg. 

Graph 5: Volume (Kg) of Germany firework* imports, 1999-2018
Graph showing the annual volume of firework imports to Germany

 Source: World Integrated Trade Solution
* Harmonised system code 360410.