Blasting into the New Year: staying safe with fireworks

In some communities, firecrackers are a popular way to bring in the New Year or celebrate nuptials. I once attended a Vietnamese wedding where they lit a small strand of firecrackers and, unfortunately, some of the guests were standing too close. One person was hit in the face by burning bits of cracker. Thankfully, he was okay.

If small firecrackers can cause injury, imagine what larger fireworks can do. How dangerous are they?

Well, it depends on who’s using them. Fireworks are quite safe when handled by professionals with appropriate permits. They’re not so safe when they’re used by people without licences or adequate supervision and training.

Permits and licences

In Australia you generally need a permit or licence to operate fireworks. Fireworks sold on the black market are illegal and dangerous and should always be avoided.

The rules and regulations for the safe and legal use of fireworks vary across the states and territories:

For some of these permits and licences you may need to complete a course or undergo training. You may also need other permits or permissions from local councils, residents or landowners. And you must always, always comply with stringent safety policies.

Territory Day

In the Northern Territory, fireworks can be sold legally to the general public between certain hours on Territory Day. That’s the first of July, for those not familiar, a day that recognises and celebrates the granting of self-governance in 1978. On this day, people can buy fireworks from an approved retailer and legally set them off, but only between certain hours.

Northern Territory retailers must comply with the Dangerous Goods Regulations. And people using fireworks must, as far as is reasonably practicable, ensure the health and safety of those around their fireworks displays.

Territory Day 2016 saw eight people turn up to hospitals with fireworks-related injuries, including two men needing surgery. In the 48 hours that followed, the police received 181 calls about ‘fireworks disturbances’.

One man was caught on video apparently aiming a firework directly at a building where two people were standing on a balcony. Such reckless acts can result in property damage, injury or even death.

Rules and regulations

The first and most obvious reason to stick to the rules is safety – for your sake and the sake of people around you. The second reason is for your own legal protection. Generally, the law of negligence doesn’t cover you if you’re involved in an illegal activity. Even if the fireworks in your possession went off accidently, you can still be held liable if those fireworks injures others, or if it starts a fire and causes property damage.

There may be exceptions. If an adult supplies a child with a firecracker, it could be argued that the adult is culpable because they knew the risks and should not have exposed the child.

Similarly, if you’re an innocent bystander and your friend lights a firecracker that injures you, you could potentially sue your friend. However, you first need to consider whether they have the financial means to cover your claim. You also need to consider how important your friendship is. In some states, you may also need to prove that your injuries meet an impairment threshold before you can claim for pain and suffering damages.

When it comes to fireworks it’s best to leave them to the experts. Because the only thing worse than waking up on New Year’s Day with a hangover is waking up in hospital.

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Trang van Heugten

Maurice Blackburn Melbourne
Trang van Heugten is a Senior Associate who practices in the Public Liability and Faulty Products department at Maurice Blackburn, based in Melbourne. She is also a Law Institute of Victoria Personal Injury Accredited Specialist who has a particular interest in bringing claims for ...

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