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In Canada, we traditionally celebrate July 1st, Labour Day, and other holidays with all-day family events, barbeques and fireworks displays. Lighting off a few firecrackers or running around the backyard with a lit sparkler may seem like a relatively harmless way to have fun, but each year children suffer injuries caused by fireworks and many of them end up in hospital emergency rooms.
According to Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program (CHIRPP) from 1998 to 2004 (latest statistics) there were 30 fireworks related injuries that occurred to children from one to nine years of age and 42 injuries that occurred to children from ten to fourteen years of age. 49.5% of the incidents occurred at private homes; 10.5% occurred in a public park and 6.3% on a public road.
According to the United States 'Consumer Product Safety Commission’, there are approximately 9,000 fireworks-related injuries each year. More than half of the victims are young children or teenagers and 21% involve eye injuries. Injuries sustained from fireworks include bottle rockets, sparklers and firecrackers. Sparklers typically burn at 1,200° Fahrenheit and cause 27% of all fireworks injuries, including third-degree burns.
The most common fireworks injury involves the hands, fingers, eyes, head and face. Wayward bottle rockets can injure bystanders and cause eyelid lacerations, corneal abrasions, retinal detachment, optic nerve damage, rupture of the eyeball and even complete blindness. One in every six fireworks-related eye injuries results in permanent vision loss or blindness.
Loud, Startling Noises for Little Ears
Fireworks are not a daily occurrence, so while adults may appreciate the significance of the event, young children have not had the experience and therefore nothing they can compare it to, aside from maybe the popping of a balloon. It's common for very young children to be startled by loud noises such as fireworks, a car backfiring or a blaring siren. Even I get startled - especially during thunderstorms.
Parents may be disappointed when their child does not respond with the thrill and excitement at a fireworks display so it's important to consider the experience through your child's eyes and mind.
According to Robert Garcia, an audiologist and director of Kansas State University's Communication Sciences and Disorders Program, loud noises produced by fireworks, especially firecrackers, can cause more than fear in young children -- they can also damage their hearing. "Firecrackers like M-80s and others are as intense as shooting a gun," said Garcia.
"Because M-80s are so loud, it takes only one exposure to cause permanent hearing loss."
He recommends children wear a form of ear protection, such as earplugs or headphones, even when watching firecracker-type fireworks from a distance and if your child won't keep the ear protection in place, Garcia offers parents this advice: "No earplugs, no fireworks."
- Children should always be supervised by an adult when they are within the vicinity of fireworks.
- Never let children play with any type of fireworks including sparklers.
- Observe all local laws when it comes to fireworks.
- Purchase fireworks from reliable retailers in your neighbourhood.
- The Explosives Regulatory Division (ERD) has lists of authorized fireworks manufactured in Canada and A bilingual label is an indication that fireworks are authorized. Do not use or smuggle fireworks from another country because the quality is questionable and they may be a safety hazard. This safety tip resourced from CBC News .
- The ERD of the Natural Resources of Canada has explosive regulations governing the use of fireworks, but provinces, territories or cities may have their own regulations, such as restricting the purchase and use to certain times of the year. People must be at least 18 years of age to purchase fireworks. This safety tip resourced from CBC News .
- There are two types of fireworks: display and consumer (family). Experienced and licensed pyrotechnicians are registered and licensed to set off display fireworks. Crowd supervision is mandatory and organizers require a permit. According to the Canada Safety Council, more than 16,500 Canadians are licensed to conduct exhibition fireworks demonstrations. This safety tip resourced from CBC News .
- Avoid purchasing kits that require assembly - make sure they are ready to use.
- Do not buy fireworks packaged in brown paper. This is often a sign that the fireworks were manufactured for professional displays and not neighbourhood events.
- Fireworks must be transported in a vehicle's trunk, not in the back or front seat areas of the car. If your vehicle does not have a trunk, put the fireworks in a container with a lid. Do not smoke while loading, transporting or unloading fireworks.
- Fireworks are intended for outdoor use only.
- Always follow all fireworks warning and label instructions.
- Protect your eyes by wearing safety goggles or safety glasses. Regular glasses or sunglasses will not provide adequate protection and could potentially make an injury worse. Wear non-flammable clothing such as cotton – not synthetic fabrics like nylon or polyester.
- Before the launch, fireworks should be planted firmly (half the length of the firework) into the ground or sand so that they are aimed to shoot straight into the sky.
- Light fireworks on a smooth, flat surface away from the house, dry leaves and grass, and be mindful of any other items that may catch on fire.
- Make sure all people are out of range before lighting fireworks. People should be at least 20 metres away from the fireworks.
- Be mindful which way the wind is blowing. Make sure the fireworks are set off with the wind blowing away from the spectators. If the wind is strong, do not set off fireworks.
- Never throw or point fireworks at people, animals or buildings.
- Sparklers can burn as hot as 650° F and they should only be used outdoors on a driveway, sidewalk or other fire-resistant surface and always with adult supervision. Once the sparklers have completely burned, they should be doused and placed immediately in a metal container. Do not substituting sparklers for candles on a cake.
- Never carry fireworks in your pocket.
- The fireworks igniter should always wear eye and ear protection. Never place any part of your body over the fireworks.
- Use long match sticks to light the fireworks, not lighters or cigarettes.
- Never shorten or lengthen fuses.
- Do not experiment or concoct your own fireworks.
- Light fireworks one at a time.
- Never relight 'dud' fireworks. Accidents such as facial burns and even blindness can
- Never light fireworks in glass or metal containers.
- Keep a garden hose or bucket nearby in case of an unexpected fire.
- After the fireworks have been set off wait for a period of 15 to 20 minutes to pass, soak fireworks in water and then place them into the trashcan.
- Store unused fireworks in a cool, dry place away from children. Check to see if there are any special handling instructions. Ten kilograms gross weight is the maximum amount that can be stored in a dwelling. Larger amounts must be kept in a separate, locked building. This safety tip resourced from CBC News .
- The safest way for your family to enjoy fireworks is to attend a public fireworks display.
- Respect safety barriers that allow pyrotechnicians to do their jobs professionally and safely.
- If you find unexploded fireworks, do not touch them. Contact your local fire or police department.
- If you have any question as to the severity of a burn, call 9-1-1 immediately.
In the Event of a Burn:
- Run cool water over the affected area until the pain subsides and the skin cools.
- Loosely cover the burn with a sterile gauze pad.
- Do not apply lotion, ointment or oils.
- If the pain does not subside, or if blisters develop, it is important to seek medical attention immediately.
- Burns to the face or eyes should be treated immediately in the emergency department
- If the burn is more severe causing blistering, peeling and is very painful, seek medical attention immediately.
In the Event of an Eye Injury:
- If your child suffers from an eye injury during a fireworks event make sure your he/she does not rub his/her eyes because this action will only irritate the affected area more.
- Try cleaning your child's eye with cool water.
- If your child complains of continued visual problems or is still in pain after flushing their eyes with water, seek medical attention immediately.
In the Event of Smoke Inhalation:
- Remove your child from the smoke filled area and into a well-ventilated area.
- If your child continues to cough and/or is experiencing difficult or laboured breathing call 911.
- Call 911 if your child experiences a burn larger than the palm of your hand.
- Call 911 if your child suffers from an eye injury from fireworks.
- Do Not apply ointments, butter or salves to burns because the heat from the burn will be trapped which will cause increased pain.
- Do Not rupture blisters caused by burns.
Consider These Very Important Factors:
- Speak with your children the day before and day of the fireworks event to prepare and teach them how fireworks are displayed with words they will understand. For example you could say, "After supper we will be going to the waterfront to see the fireworks display. When I was a little girl, I enjoyed seeing fireworks very much. You will see beautiful, brightly coloured, sparkling lights in the sky and you will hear people saying, "ooh" and "aah" and clapping their hands because they enjoy the fireworks show so much. Fireworks often make loud, booming noises and we will say "boom" along with them."
- On the day of the fireworks event, keep your children's routine as normal as possible with meals, favourite rituals and afternoon naps.
- At the event, watch your children closely and look for signs of anxiety or fear.
- Provide physical reassurance. Your child will be watching you for cues on how to respond so make a point to be relaxed and happy. Let them see the joy in your eyes and the smile on your face when observing fireworks.
- Acknowledge your children's utterances and gestures when they point to what they see.
- If your child is showing signs of uneasiness or is frightened with the prospect of seeing fireworks, you might want to consider watching the fireworks from inside your home or through a car window.
- If your child is upset by the sounds and lights be prepared to leave right away. Forcing a child to endure the experience will not necessarily make it any better and take into consideration it may result in anxious or stressed behaviour - even nightmares.
- If your child has a sensory-related disability, it is very important to be mindful of the noise level.
- Experiences may heighten reactions to loud noises and produce anxiety at any age. If your child has experienced a traumatic event, such as a thunderstorm or an explosion or any type of harsh accident, please keep this in mind.
- Giving your children words to identify their feelings helps them to express their feelings to you in ways you will understand, such as, "You jumped when you heard that loud noise? Were you surprised by that loud bang? Are you frightened? "I am here and you are here – and we are good."
Consumer Fireworks Safety - Canada
National Fire Protection Association – USA Fireworks Related Injuries