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Pyrotechnics Industry - Fireworks Display

Pyrotechnics include many devices to launch, detonate, or initiate an explosive material. This site discusses common hazards and controls for workers involved in the outdoor display of fireworks.

Fireworks display is addressed in specific standards for the general industry, shipyard employment, marine terminals, longshoring, and the construction industry.

OSHA Standards

This section highlights selected OSHA standards, standard interpretations (official letters of interpretation of the standards) and example enforcement actions related to fireworks display.

Note: Twenty-five states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have OSHA-approved State Plans and have adopted their own standards and enforcement policies. For the most part, these States adopt standards that are identical to Federal OSHA. However, some States have adopted different standards applicable to this topic or may have different enforcement policies. All states have additional laws regulating pyrotechnics. The American Pyrotechnics Association maintains a directory of State Laws available in PDF format.

General Industry (29 CFR 1910)

Shipyard Employment (29 CFR 1915)

Marine Terminals (29 CFR 1917)

Longshoring (29 CFR 1918)

  • Maritime activities, such as the launching aerial displays from barges, must comply with the maritime standards.

Construction Industry (29 CFR 1926)

  • Construction activities, such as the building and removal of the display structures, must comply with the construction standards.

Directives

Standard Interpretations

Example Enforcement Actions

  • Three Employees Killed, One Injured In Fireworks Accident. OSHA Accident Report, (1997, July 3). Describes an enforcement action in a fireworks display from a barge, a shell hit the deck of the barge, landing between the "ready box" that contained additional shells and the 4 ft coaming on the starboard side. The shell exploded upon impact with the steel floor, two employees escaped into the water. Another hung onto the side of the barge, and sustained an injury to his right ankle. The third employee was killed where he stood, consumed by the flames generated in the numerous explosions that followed. The two employees who leaped off the prow of the barge drowned. Neither were wearing life preservers. Their bodies were found downriver the next morning.
    • 5(a)(1) Violation: Employees were exposed to the hazards of being burned due to the premature ignition of three-inch through six-inch pyrotechnic shells. The wooden "ready box" containing these pyrotechnic shells was not equipped with a self-closing lid. One method of abatement to correct this apparent hazard is to equip each "ready box" with a self-closing lid as required by National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1123, paragraph 2-2.4.1.
    • 5(a)(1) Violation: Employees were exposed to the hazards of being burned due to the premature ignition of pyrotechnic shells. One method of abatement to correct this apparent hazard is to place all pyrotechnic shells into the "ready box" prior to the fireworks display as required by NFPA 1123, paragraph 2- 2.4.2.
    • 5(a)(1) Violation: Employees were exposed to the hazards of being burned due to due to the mortar tubes not being separated from the drum walls by a minimum of five inches. The hazards of mortar displacement and lack of protection to guard against a premature shell detonation inside the tube existed. One method of abatement to correct these apparent hazards is to arrange the individual mortar tubes so that they are separated from the drum walls by a minimum of five inches as required by NFPA 1123, paragraph 2-3.3.3.2.
  • Four Employees Killed In Explosion At Pyrotechnics Storage. OSHA Accident Report, (1997, June 5). Describes an enforcement action involving two employees inside a pyrotechnics storage magazine, preparing fireworks for a display show. An explosion occurred, and both employees were killed when struck by flying pieces of metal. The charges apparently went off prematurely.

  • One Employee Killed And One Injured By Igniting Fireworks. OSHA Accident Report, (1995, August 19). Describes an enforcement action in which two employees were setting up a fireworks display. Several shells had been loaded in their respective mortars in a wooden rack. The first employee was using a manual staple gun to staple the quick matches to the top of the rack, when one of the mortars fired, striking him in the face. He died and his coworker suffered minor burns to his face and neck. The cause of the ignition of the shell was believed to be a spark from the steel staple striking dirt on the wood rack or friction igniting the quick match.
    • 5(a)(1) Violation: Employees were exposed to the hazards of being burned due to the premature ignition of pyrotechnic shells. Employees were exposed to the hazards of ignition of the quick match and subsequent premature ignition of pyrotechnic shell in that the quick match was left outside of the mortar and exposed to potential sources of ignition including, but not limited to, stapling of the match to the rack frame. Abatement Note: Among other methods, one feasible and acceptable abatement method to address these hazards is to use rubber bands to secure the quick match to the mortar tubes.
    • Standard Cited: 1910.132, Personal Protective Equipment, General Requirements.
    • Standard Cited: 1910.133, Eye and Face Protection.

Consensus Standards and the General Duty Clause

Using Consensus standards to support a 5(a)(1) Citation:

A consensus standard can be used to show "industry recognition" of a hazard. However, the hazard must be recognized in the employers' industry, not an industry other than the employers' industry.

Section 5(a)(1):

  • is not used to enforce "should" standards.

  • is not used to require abatement methods not required by a specific standard.

  • is not normally used to cover categories of hazards exempted by an OSHA standard.

Background

Section 5(a)(1):

  • Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employee;

  • The general duty provisions can only be used where there is no standard that applies to the particular hazard involved.

Evaluation of Potential 5(a)(1) situations:

  • Employer failed to keep workplace free of hazards to which employees of that employer were exposed.
    • Must involve a serious hazard and employee exposure
    • Does not specify a particular abatement method - only that the employer keeps the workplace free of serious hazards by any feasible and effective means.
    • The hazard must be reasonably foreseeable.
  • The hazard was recognized.
    • Industry recognition
    • Employer recognition
    • Common-sense recognition
  • The hazard caused or was likely to cause death or serious physical harm.

  • Feasible means to correct the hazard were available.

Other Federal Standards

Other federal agencies have adopted regulations which may impact occupational hazards from pyrotechnics. These include the following:

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)

Note: These are NOT OSHA regulations. However, they do provide guidance from their originating organizations related to worker protection.

Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)

Note: These are NOT OSHA regulations. However, they do provide guidance from their originating organizations related to worker protection.

  • 15 USC 2064. Fireworks that are intended solely for commercial use, such as fireworks used in public displays, are not covered by these regulations. However, any professional or display fireworks device which contains a specific defect that presents a risk to consumers, such as those observing displays, may be subject to the provisions of Section 15 of the Consumer Product Safety Act, 15 U.S.C. Part 2064.

Department of Transportation (DOT)

Note: These are NOT OSHA regulations. However, they do provide guidance from their originating organizations related to worker protection.

  • Office of Hazardous Materials Safety. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). Provides links to the most frequently requested documents by shippers, carriers, Federal and State agencies, as well as members of the general public.

  • 49 CFR Subtitle B, Other regulations relating to transportation
    • 106, Rulemaking procedures
    • 107, Hazardous materials program procedures
    • 110, Hazardous materials public sector training and planning grants
    • 171, General information, regulations, and definitions
    • 172, Hazardous materials table, special provisions, hazardous materials communications, emergency response information, training requirements, and security plans
    • 173, Shippers - general requirements for shipments and packagings
    • 174, Carriage by rail
    • 175, Carriage by aircraft
    • 176, Carriage by vessel
    • 177, Carriage by public highway
    • 178, Specifications for packagings
    • 179, Specifications for tank cars
    • 180, Continuing qualification and maintenance of packagings

OSHA Guidance

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has compiled the following list of safety guidelines designed to advise display fireworks operators and other affected employers of some procedures that may be followed to help ensure that display fireworks are used safely.  It is important to understand that due to their sensitivity, display fireworks can present hazards when improperly handled or used. During the peak season encompassing the 2003 Independence Day holiday, ten fatalities occurred nation-wide involving personnel setting up and conducting fireworks displays. Employers are encouraged to follow these or other more protective safety guidelines when using display fireworks. The following safety guidelines do not supersede any regulatory requirements adopted at the Federal, State, or local levels.

Safety Guidelines for Display Fireworks Sites [115 KB PDF, 3 pages]. (2004, June).

Pre-Display Approval Checklist

  • Obtain required Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) licenses and permits.

  • Obtain U.S. Coast Guard approval for displays fired from harbors or navigable waterways.

  • Obtain Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval if close to an airport or heliport.

  • Ensure pilots are warned through issuance of a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM).

  • Submit required applications to the State and/or local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) and obtain necessary approval, licenses and permits. Minimum items to address include:
    • Qualified operator in charge
    • Properly trained assistants
    • Site layout with proper separation distances
    • Event description
    • Firing procedures
    • Termination procedures
    • Emergency procedures
  • Arrange for inspections required by State/local AHJ or Federal authorities.

  • Obtain approval from appropriate authorities to close roads or restrict access.

  • Arrange for fire service and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to be available for the display.

  • Obtain the required or appropriate insurance.

Pre-Display Site Checklist

  • Establish site security prior to arrival of pyrotechnic materials.

  • Protect all fireworks, pyrotechnic materials, and launching equipment from inclement weather and keep them dry at all times.

  • Prohibit smoking material, matches, lighters or open flames within 50 feet of fireworks or pyrotechnic material.

  • Only necessary personnel required to perform the display set up and show shall be allowed at the display site.

  • Prohibit persons in the display site who are under the influence of alcohol, narcotics, or medication that could adversely affect judgment, mobility, or stability.

  • No cell phones or radio frequency (RF) generating devices are permitted within the immediate discharge area while electrically ignited fireworks or pyrotechnic devices are prepared, loaded, or set up.

  • Wear all personal protective equipment appropriate for setup duties.

  • Verify that all mortars and racks are made of approved materials, and are of sufficient strength, length and durability to allow shells to be propelled to safe deflagration heights.

  • Make sure all mortars, mortar racks, bundles, pre-loaded box items, cakes, candles, and ground displays have been thoroughly inspected and deemed inherently stable.

  • Avoid placing any portion of your body over mortars during loading, wiring, or igniting, and immediately after the display has been fired.

  • Use safe handling and loading procedures for all pyrotechnic devices.

  • Pre-load larger shells as required.

  • Check proper fit of shells in mortars.

  • Designate spotter(s).

Display Checklist

  • Verify fire service and EMS units are available and ready to respond.

  • Establish good communications between crew, event sponsor, AHJ, and fire service/EMS units.

  • Maintain crowd control, utilizing monitors and/or barriers.

  • Use all required personal protective equipment especially protection for: head, eye, hearing, and foot.

  • Wear long sleeved and long legged clothing made of cotton, wool or similar flame resistant cloth.

  • Avoid placing any portion of your body over mortars when manually igniting them.

  • Monitor weather and crowd conditions to maintain safety.

  • Comply with directions given by the AHJ, spotter(s), or fire/EMS units.

  • Use only flashlights or other nonincendive lighting in firing and ready box areas.

Post-Display Checklist

  • Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) appropriate for cleanup duties.

  • Disable any electric firing switches and disconnect all electric cables.

  • After at least 15 minutes, conduct search of the display and fallout areas.

  • Follow proper marking and warning procedures for unexploded shells.

  • Ensure that all unused live product and duds are accounted for, properly handled, repackaged and secured according to Federal, State and local regulations.

  • Conduct a second site search at first light.

For additional information on general safety and health concerns, see OSHA's Safety and Health Topics Pages on:

Industry Best Practices

There are a variety of hazards associated with fireworks display, the primary ones resulting from fires and unplanned detonations. This page provides example industry practices to control these hazards.

American Pyrotechnics Association (APA)

Note: These are NOT OSHA regulations. However, they do provide guidance from their originating organizations related to worker protection.

  • APA Standard 87-1, The Standard for Construction and Approval for Transportation of Fireworks, Novelties, and Theatrical Pyrotechnics. American Pyrotechnics Association.

  • General Information for Fire Service Professionals, Fireworks (Pyrotechnics). American Pyrotechnics Association, P.O. Box 30438, Bethesda, Maryland, 20824 - 0438, 1 page. Contains links for firefighters concerning fireworks.

International Code Council (ICC)

Note: These are NOT OSHA regulations. However, they do provide guidance from their originating organizations related to worker protection.

  • International Fire Code (IFC). Addresses fire safety in new and existing buildings and together with the International Building Code, comprehensively references national standards.
    • Chapter 33: Fireworks and Explosives.

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)

Note: These are NOT OSHA regulations. However, they do provide guidance from their originating organizations related to worker protection.

  • 1, Uniform Fire Code, 2006 Edition.
  • Incorporates provisions form NFPA's Fire Prevention Code and Western Fire Chiefs Association's (WFCA's) Uniform Fire Code into one far-reaching document that serves the need of every jurisdiction. The 2006 Code offers guidance on vital fire prevention and fire protection topics.
    • Chapter 65, Explosives, Fireworks, and Model Rocketry
  • 10, Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers, 2006 Edition. Provides guidance on equipment distribution, placement, maintenance, operation, and inspection, including testing and recharging.

  • 101, Life Safety Code, 2006 Edition. Adopted as law by jurisdictions in most states, the Life Safety Code has grown in scope to provide a minimum building design, construction, operation and maintenance requirements needed to protect building occupants from the dangers of fire, smoke, toxic fumes, and panic.

  • 102, Standards for Grandstands, Folding and Telescoping Seating, Tents, and Membrane Structures, 2006 Edition. National Fire Protection Association. Provides standards for protecting lives from fire, storm, collapse, and panic in grandstands, bleachers, mass folding or telescopic seats, tents and air-supported structures.

  • 160, Standard for Flame Effects Before an Audience, 2006 Edition. Provides guidance on the use of indoor and outdoor special effects in the areas of design, installation, testing, operation, maintenance and approval.

  • 306, Standard for the Control of Gas Hazards on Vessels, 2003 Edition. Specifies safety requirements on marine vessels that carry or burn as fuel any of the following: flammable or combustible liquids, flammable compressed gases, or chemicals in bulk.

  • 1123, Code for Fireworks Display, 2006 Edition. Applies to the construction, handling, and use of fireworks and equipment intended for outdoor fireworks display. It also applies to the general conduct and operation of the display.

  • 1126, Standard for the Use of Pyrotechnics Before a Proximate Audience, 2006 Edition. Provides requirements for the protection of property, operators, performers, support personnel, and the viewing audiences where pyrotechnic effects are used indoors or outdoors with a proximate audience.

  • Fire Protection Guide to Hazardous Materials, 13th Edition. This guide includes the following:
    • 49, Hazardous Chemicals Data
    • 325, Guide to Fire Hazard Properties of Flammable Liquids, Gases and Volatile Solids

Institute of Makers of Explosives (IME)

  • Institute of Makers of Explosives. A non-profit association which provides technical information and recommendations concerning commercial explosive materials to promote the safety and protection of employees, users, the public and the environment throughout all aspects of the manufacture and use of explosive materials in industrial blasting and other essential operations.

IME has many safety library publications:

  • Construction Guide for Storage Magazines,

  • The American Table of Distances,

  • Suggested Code of Regulations,

  • Warnings and Instructions,

  • Glossary of Commercial Explosives Industry Terms,

  • Transportation & Distribution Handbook,

  • Safety in the Transportation, Storage, Handling and Use of Commercial Explosive Materials,

  • Safety Guide for the Prevention of Radio Frequency Radiation Hazards in the Use of Commercial Detonators (Blasting Caps),

  • Recommendations for the Safe Transportation of Detonators in the Same Vehicle with Certain Other Explosive Materials and Generic Guide for the use of IME 22 Container,

  • 2000 Emergency Response Guidebook and a full set of safety library publications.
  • American Table of Distances. The distances specified are those measured from the explosive materials storage facility to the inhabited building, highway or passenger railway, irrespective of property lines.

  • Shelf Life of Explosive Materials. Due to the diversity of the products manufactured by companies, not one shelf life standard can, or should be applied, to all explosive materials. IME recommends storing explosive materials so that corresponding grades, brands, sizes and "Date-Plant-Shift" codes are together, and rotation of stock so that the oldest material in the magazine is used first (first in/first out).

  • Non-Electric Ignition Systems. A thru E steps to safely use non-electric ignition systems.

  • Fumes From Blasting Operations. Blasting operations produce toxic and nontoxic gases as a normal by-product regardless of the types of explosive materials used. To minimize any hazardous exposure from the gases produced by outdoor blasting, it is essential that the blaster understand the hazards that may occur and follow the recommended steps to have a safe operation.

  • Placement of Detonators and Boosters At the Collar of Blast Holes Prior to Loading. This practice ensures that the designed delay pattern is being followed which eliminates many hazards from occurring when a large number of holes are being blasted, the blast consists of multi rows, there are several crews loading the blast, the blast pattern is irregular or a combination of delay systems (electronic detonators sequential blasting machine, shock tube/delay primers, etc.) is being deployed.

  • Date/Plant/Shift Code. IME has an easy method of coding for product tracing that consists of the date, work shift and plant of manufacture that is plainly marked on each unit to be identified.

  • Inhabited Buildings. Definitions for "inhabited building".

International Code Council (ICC)

Note: These are NOT OSHA regulations. However, they do provide guidance from their originating organizations related to worker protection.

  • International Fire Code (IFC). Addresses fire safety in new and existing buildings and together with the International Building Code, comprehensively references national standards.
    • Chapter 33: Fireworks and Explosives.

International Society of Explosives Engineers (ISEE)

  • International Society of Explosives Engineers (ISEE). Formed in 1974 as a professional society dedicated to promoting the safe and controlled use of explosives in mining, quarrying, construction, manufacturing, demolition, aerospace, forestry, avalanche control, art, automotives, special effects, exploration, seismology, agriculture, law enforcement, and many other peaceful uses of explosives. The Blaster's Library offers hundreds of publications:
    • Von Maltitz, Ian. Black Powder Manufacturing, Testing and Optimizing.  (2003). Reflects changes in the approach to making black powder. Contains depictions and descriptions of black powder by the author based on his experiences.
    • Conkling, John A. Chemistry of Pyrotechnics. (1985). Provides information on the components and preparation of mixtures; ignition and propagation; heat and delay composition; color, light, smoke, and sound production.
    • Davis, Tenney L. Chemistry of Powder and Explosives. (1943). Supplies information concerning the modes of behavior of explosive substances & the phenomena, both chemical and physical, which they exhibit. This book is primarily for chemists.
    • Kentish, Thomas. Complete Art of Firework Making.  (1993). Describes basic techniques that have changed little since Victorian England. First written 115 years ago, new illustrations and information have been added in this updated version.
    • Dannenberg, Joe. Contemporary History of Industrial Explosives in America.  (1978). Describes the changes in the explosives industry from one of the most recognized names in blasting, focusing on the profession. It includes information about the development of ANFO, slurries, and blasthole dewatering.
    • Meyer, Rudolph. Explosives. (2002). Contains five-hundred entries including formulas and descriptions of about 120 explosive chemicals, 60 additives, fuels and oxidizing agents and a 1,500-entry subject index.
    • Explosives Products Guide. (2003). Provides product charts which include ANFOs, Emulsions, Emulsion/ANFO Blends, Water Gels, Specialty Explosives, Dynamites, Cast Boosters, Detonators/Initiation Systems and list of Manufacturers.
    • Friend, Robert C. Explosives Training Manual. (1975). Provides the prospective blaster with a structured, well-illustrated, and easy to understand, source of information on the handling and use of explosives. Ideal for training and for the user of explosives.
    • Safe Practices Manual - Explosives. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Report (1978). Contains regulations, standards, and recommendations for supervisors and employees. This safe practices manual is for the manufacture, transportation, storage, and use of explosives.
    • Safe Practices Manual - Pyrotechnics. (1991). Covers the manufacture, transportation, storage, and use of pyrotechnics, and includes field mixing.
    • Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods by Air, 2001-2002 Edition. International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) AN/905.

Using Consensus standards to support a 5(a)(1) Citation

A consensus standard can be used to show "industry recognition" of a hazard. However, the hazard must be recognized in the employers industry, not an industry other than the employers industry.

Section 5(a)(1):

  • is not used to enforce "should" standards

  • is not used to require abatement methods not required by a specific standard.

  • is not normally used to cover categories of hazards exempted by an OSHA standard.

    The general duty provisions can only be used where there is no standard that applies to the particular hazard involved.

Background

Section 5(a)(1):

Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees;

The general duty provisions can only be used where there is no standard that applies to the particular hazard involved.

Evaluation of Potential 5(a)(1) situations

Employer failed to keep workplace free of hazards to which employees of that employer were exposed.

  • Must involve a serious hazard and employee exposure

  • Does not specify a particular abatement method only that the employer keeps the workplace free of serious hazards by any feasible and effective means.

  • The hazard must be reasonably foreseeable.

The hazard was recognized.

  • Industry recognition

  • Employer recognition

  • Common-sense recognition

The hazard caused or was likely to cause death or serious physical harm.

Feasible means to correct the hazard were available.

Other Resources

  • The Fireworks Manual. Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, Canada, (1991).

  • Lancaster, Ronald. Fireworks Principles And Practice, Third Edition. Chemical Publishing Company, Inc., New York, New York, (1998). [ISBN 0-8206-0354-6].

  • Conkling, John A. Chemistry of Pyrotechnics: Basic Principles and Theory. Marcel Dekker, New York, New York, (1986). [ISBN 0-8247-7443-4]. Detailed book on the fundamental chemical principles involved in pyrotechnics and production.

  • Kroeger, J. Encyclopedia of Occupational Health and Safety 2:1813-1815. Pyrotechnics production and associated health hazards are reviewed. Chemicals of interest are nitrocellulose, potassium nitrate, sulfur, silver-fulminate, and charcoals.

Additional Information

Related Safety and Health Topics Pages

Training

  • American Pyrotechnics Association (APA). The APA is a leading trade association of the pyrotechnics industry. The association supports and promotes safety standards for all aspects of pyrotechnics. Its diverse membership includes regulated and licensed manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, retailers, importers and suppliers of pyrotechnics, and professional public display companies.
  • National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The mission of the international nonprofit NFPA is to reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating scientifically-based consensus codes and standards, research, training and education.
    • Fireworks Safety [712 KB PDF, 1 page]. NFPA does not endorse the use of consumer fireworks and instead encourages the public to enjoy displays of fireworks conducted by trained professionals.
    • Find an NFPA Code and Standard. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). List of current NFPA codes and standards with links to full online text version. NFPA serves as the world's leading advocate of fire prevention and is an authoritative source on public safety.
  • Pyrotechnics Guild International (PGI). The PGI is an independent worldwide nonprofit organization of amateur and professional fireworks enthusiasts. Its educational and scientific purposes are to promote the safe and responsible display and use of pyrotechnics and fireworks, the display of public and private fireworks, the production and sale of high quality fireworks and to channel the creative energies of talented people into the design, production and display of high quality fireworks.

  • Journal of Pyrotechnics. This organization publishes a technical journal on pyrotechnics, including fireworks, pyrotechnic special effects, propellants and rocketry, and civilian pyrotechnics. Articles encompass reports on research, reviews, and tutorials. The Journal is published twice a year.

Other Resources

  • How to Plan for Workplace Emergencies and Evacuations. OSHA Publication 3088, (Revised 2001). Also available as a 251 KB PDF, 25 pages. Designed to help the employer plan for the possibility that company employees could be forced to evacuate when least expected. The best protection is to expect the unexpected and develop a well thought-out emergency action plan as a guide when immediate action is necessary.

  • Planning and Responding to Workplace Emergencies [22 KB PDF*, 2 pages]. (2004, April). OSHA Fact Sheet. Recommends reviewing plans with employees when initially put in place and re-evaluation and amendment of the plan periodically whenever the plan itself, or employee responsibilities, change.

  • Emergency Exit Routes [72 KB PDF*, 3 pages]. (2003). OSHA Fact Sheet. Answers questions about exit routes.

Accessibility Assistance: Contact the OSHA Directorate of Technical Support and Emergency Management at (202) 693-2300 for assistance accessing PDF materials.

*These files are provided for downloading.