Surgeons call for end of fireworks being packaged as ‘toys’

Photo © Epic Fireworks (cc-by-sa/2.0)

A coalition of surgeons have called on the UK Government to implement strict new laws on the packaging of fireworks.

The British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS), British Society for Surgery of the Hand (BSSH), and the British Burn Association (BBA) are behind the calls that would see it become mandatory for fireworks to be sold in either blank packaging or packaging with graphic warning images – similar to what is found on cigarette packaging.

In the last year, 1,936 people visited A&E due to injuries caused by fireworks – with children under the age of 18 making up 31% of the hospital admissions.

Mark Henley, consultant plastic surgeon and president of BAPRAS said, “Another year has now passed and the Government has failed to take appropriate action to reduce the number of children and young adults who sustain life-changing injuries from the misuse of fireworks. Although packaged as toys, these are serious explosives, and the types of reconstructive surgery being required would not be out of place in a war zone.”

David Newington, president of the British society for surgery of the hand (BSSH), added,
“Hand surgeons see devastating injuries caused by fireworks throughout the winter months, with people often losing large portions of their hand. Providing warnings on all firework packaging would serve as a graphic reminder of the severe yet avoidable damage they can cause. Even sparklers – which are often thought of as safe – can present a significant risk unless used carefully, as they burn at such high temperatures.”

Legislation introduced into Northern Ireland in 2002 meant that a licence was required to purchase category 2 or 3 fireworks, resulting in a significant drop in the number of injuries reported (136 in 2001 to 38 in 2002). BAPRAS, BSSH and BBA believe that the changes in packaging should be used as an interim solution.

Alastair Brown, consultant plastic surgeon at Ulster Hospital in Belfast, commented, “Despite the welcomed decrease in the overall number of fireworks injuries in N.I. following various legislative changes and intense publicity campaigns, we are still seeing patients presenting to the Plastic Surgery Service with potentially devastating life-long injuries. These can have profound effects with respect to function and appearance and the associated psychological implications.

“Such injuries are avoidable and often due to misuse and we would appeal to all concerned to handle these explosives with utmost care and respect. The real dangers of inappropriate use must be highlighted to the public and this could include graphic warnings on packaging.”

A spokesperson from the British Burns association said, “Fireworks are explosive devices and this must be recognised when they are being used. If they explode incorrectly they can cause severe injury, including loss of fingers, loss of sight, and permanent disfigurement. They should only ever be used in a supervised environment, please be sensible – stay safe.”