Safety suggestions for a painless Bonfire night

Roman candles and rockets, bangers and air bombs: the shops are full of them this week. Modern fireworks are cheaper, bigger and more varied than ever and, if trends continue, we shall spend some pounds 30m on more than 140 million of them this year. The danger is that the number of people who are injured by fireworks will go up, too.

Most firework accidents happen to children, and though we think of sparklers as rather sweet and innocuous, they are in fact a major culprit. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) advises that sparklers should never be waved about or given to the under-fives, that burnt-out sparklers should be plunged into a bucket of cold water and that you should always wear gloves when lighting them.

A bit stern? Not according to the DTI, who say that three sparklers burning together generate the heat of a blowtorch. "Children will reach out to grab sparklers," says Roger Vincent of RoSPA, "and if they run around with them, they could poke out an eye." In view of the risks, sparklers are now banned from some public events, he adds.

Of the 1,530 people who had hospital treatment after firework accidents last year, most were injured in the street, or at back-garden displays. This year the DTI - as well as RoSPA - is campaigning hard to stop the numbers going higher. They recommend that you always buy fireworks from a shop you know, checking that they have "British Standard BS7114" written on the packet.

Other common-sense safety advice is to follow instructions, to light fireworks at arm's length using a taper and to stand well back. Tempting though it is, never go back to the ones you have lit but which haven't taken off. And don't put fireworks in your pocket in case sparks or cinders get in there, too. Another golden rule is that fireworks should never be thrown.

Given the power of some fireworks, it's as well that we have laws on their safety (the Explosives Act of 1875). Throwing or setting off fireworks - including bangers - in the street or other public places is in fact a criminal offence with a maximum fine of pounds 5,000. Selling them in the street is also an offence, while "tampering" with fireworks can carry a fine and/or a prison sentence.

Shops that sell fireworks have to be registered with their local authority, and by law can only sell to over-16s. But according to RoSPA, children on school trips to France may have "smuggled" in fireworks that are more powerful than those on sale here.

So watch out for children going, "Ooooooh ... la la."

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