Last reviewed by Faculty of Harvard Medical School on July 3, 2013
By Henry H. Bernstein, D.O., M.H.C.M.
Harvard Medical School
Each year, especially during the early summer weeks around the Fourth of July, thousands of people are treated in emergency departments for fireworks-related injuries. While some are minor, many of these injuries are serious, for example, resulting in burns or blindness. In 2012, six deaths from fireworks-related injuries were reported; perhaps these could have been prevented.
Children should never be allowed to use fireworks! Of the 8,700 fireworks-related injuries reported to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) in 2012, about 30% occurred in children under the age of 15.
All fireworks are dangerous, even sparklers, which cause the majority of fireworks-related injuries to children under the age of 5. Sparklers burn at very high temperatures (up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit), sending out sparks that can easily set clothes on fire and cause permanent eye damage.
Because the risk of injuries when using fireworks is so high, the American Academy of Pediatrics supports a nationwide ban on the private use of all fireworks. Instead, families should attend public fireworks displays, which are much less dangerous.
While some states have banned all consumer fireworks, most still allow people to use some or all types of fireworks. Until every state bans fireworks, the CPSC and the National Council on Fireworks Safety recommend taking the following safety precautions to make it less likely that someone will be injured by these potentially dangerous devices:
- Never allow children to touch fireworks of any kind, including sparklers even after they have "gone off". They can be hot, or even explosive; debris from fireworks can be extremely dangerous.
- Older teens should only be allowed to use fireworks under close adult supervision.
- Fireworks must never be used while drinking alcohol or using other drugs.
- Obey all local laws.
- If allowed in your area and you choose to do so, buy fireworks only from reliable sellers.
- Store fireworks in a dry, cool place.
- Only use fireworks outdoors and always have water close by (a garden hose and a bucket) in case of emergency.
- Read and follow label directions.
- Light only one firework at a time.
- Never hold any part of your body directly over the firework while lighting it.
- Be sure other people are far out of range before lighting fireworks.
- Never throw or point fireworks at anyone.
- Never light fireworks in a container, especially a metal or glass container.
- Never light fireworks near a house or building, dry leaves or grass, or any other materials that can catch fire.
- Never relight a "dud" firework. Instead, wait 15 to 20 minutes, then soak it in a bucket of water and throw it away.
(Information contained in this article was adapted from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.)
Henry H. Bernstein, D.O., M.H.C.M, is a Senior Lecturer in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. In addition, he is chief of General Academic Pediatrics at Children's Hospital at Dartmouth and Professor of Pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School. He is the former associate chief of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital Boston.