12 fireworks safety tips

The number of firework-related injuries treated in emergency rooms in the United States has ranged from 8,500 to 9,800 since 1997; in 2011, 26% of patients were younger than age 15.

Firework-related injuries range in severity from superficial burns to complete loss of the hand and fingers.  The most common injuries are burns to the fingers, hand, and wrist (26.7%), followed by injuries to the eye (14.9%), and open injuries to the hand and wrist (6.5%).2   Other sources report that the number of burns to the fingers, hand, and arm are as high as 41%.3  Burns account for more than 50% of firework-related injuries, although Dr. Jason Ko, of the Division of Plastic Surgery and Department of Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine at the University of Washington, warns that broken bones, dislocations, and amputations can also result from a blast injury.

Because fireworks can malfunction, Dr. Ko explained that many patients are injured when fireworks explode prematurely.  To avoid this, and other injuries, hand surgeons encourage individuals to attend public fireworks displays rather than setting off fireworks near or around the home. Public displays are monitored by local fire departments to ensure safety.

The following precautions should be taken when attending a public fireworks display:

  • Obey safety barriers and ushers.
  • Stay back a minimum of 500 feet from the launching site.
  • Resist the temptation to pick up firework debris when the display is over.  The debris may still be hot, or in some cases, the debris might be “live” and could still explode.
  • Ensure all children have adult supervision.

Dr. James Saucedo of the Hand Center of San Antonio and the University of Texas Health Science Center of San Antonio acknowledges that many individuals will not “settle” for a public fireworks display, although this is the safest way to enjoy fireworks.  He advises, “If a person intends to use personal fireworks, we recommend that safety precautions and manufacturer instructions are always followed.  Specifically, never hold an exploding device in your hand while igniting it, even if the device is designed to ‘shoot’ in a single direction.”

Although it may be tempting to use sparklers both near the home and at a public fireworks display, Dr. Donald Lee of the Department of Orthopaedics at Vanderbilt University explained that sparkler accidents are the second most common type of firework-related injury.  Sparklers are accountable for approximately 15% of burns because they are slow burning and handheld.

Learn more about fireworks safety at www.handcare.org.

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