Last Updated June 2010

Public Fireworks Risk Management



Public fireworks displays generally draw large crowds and are the event around which other activities are planned. Although the 4th of July is the most popular time for fireworks displays, firework shows occur year round.

Over the years, fireworks displays have become significantly more technical and use larger and more sophisticated shells and electronic triggering devices. These factors, combined with increasing liability concerns, have led to increased use of firms specializing in providing packaged fireworks displays. Contracting with professionals has improved the safety of these events. Consumer Product Safety Commission accident statistics confirm that fireworks are the safest when handled by professionals.

Every summer we see injuries as a result of fireworks displays. Through proper planning and management you can significantly reduce the possibility of injuries at your display.

Here are our risk management tips to help assure a successful fireworks display:

Hire an expert. Use a professional fireworks display operator who has gone through training programs and received certification in putting on fireworks displays. Don't try to do the display in-house.
Obtain Insurance. Your policy probably excludes fireworks. Most do. So it's important that you make certain the display operators has insurance and that you are named as an Additional Insured on their policy.
Apply early for your permit. Usually several municipality departments must approve the planning of your display, including fire, parks & recreation, and police.
Map your site. Site characteristics will have an impact on how the display is planned. The site must include adequate open space to create a fallout area for fireworks. This fallout area should be free of spectators, vehicles, combustible materials and overhead objects. Experts say Minimum distance from the launch area to the spectators should be a radius of at least 70 feet per inch of the internal diameter of the largest mortar used. For example, if the largest mortar is 6 inches, the crowd should be back at least 420 feet. These are minimum distances; you may need to increase them due to site characteristics, weather conditions or other factors.
During the event. Have spotters to constantly monitor the show and the fallout. Winds can change and alter the direction of the fallout. On-the-fly adjustments of shooting direction to compensate may be necessary.
Post Event Caution. The fallout area can be just as dangerous after an event as it is during. Do not allow the public back in this area until it can be inspected to recover unexploded shells and clean up other debris that could present a hazard. Inspection should be done immediately after the display, then again in the morning daylight.