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UK: Research shows safety is an afterthought on Guy Fawkes Night 

On frontline services’ biggest night of the year in the UK, new research finds that less than half of fireworks users even read the instructions.

Guy Fawkes Night, also known as Bonfire Night, is an annual commemoration in the UK marking the failure of the Gunpowder Plotters to blow up the House of Lords on November 5, 1605. Since then, the date has been celebrated with public and private fireworks displays, often with an effigy of one of the plotters – Guy Fawkes – being burnt on a bonfire. 


One of the UK's popular Bonfire Night processions, which takes place in the East Sussex town of Battle, regularly draws crowds of thousands to see the procession, bonfire and fireworks (image courtesy Shane Global)

While Bonfire Night has long been a testing time for fire, ambulance and police services, it seems that safety remains low on the public’s agenda. Research from public safety planning experts, Intermedix in conjunction with YouGov, finds that just one in three bonfire night hosts will prioritise safety, with more people prioritising the food and drink supply (34 per cent) than the safety of their guests (32 per cent). Among 18-34s, only 16 per cent rate safety as a priority, fewer than prioritise the size of their bonfire (26 per cent).

The days around Bonfire Night are a major stretch for frontline services, particularly fire services and hospital emergency departments. Fire and rescue services throughout the UK are called to attend 50 per cent more fire emergencies on and around November 5 than on any other night of the year, while every year around 1,000 people visit emergency departments with a firework-related injury in the four weeks running up to the big night.

While Bonfire Night incidents and attendances remain high (over 20 million people attend bonfires every year), government cuts since 2012 have seen budgets for frontline responders fall by up to 15 per cent annually[iv], making high demand celebrations such as Bonfire Night and New Years’ Eve an ever-increasing safety challenge for fire, police and medical responders, as well as the local councils charged with co-ordinating the local response to the celebrations.

While councils are taking new approaches, such as the use of data to provide better safety on tightened budgets, each Bonfire Night is accompanied by pleas from fire officers for better public safety.

Despite this, more than half of firework-related injuries take place at private events, which often fail to follow basic fire safety code laid out by the Royal Association for Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA).

Ian Carr, VP EMEA, Intermedix, comments: “Twenty million people will be at bonfires this week, yet only a third of those hosting bonfires will be prioritising safety. As such, the council, fire brigade and ambulance services have to get it right. With ever tighter budgets, that’s getting harder but it’s still doable if bonfire goers take basic safety precautions, and councils plan well.”

Some of the stats from the research are as follows:

“Ensuring that my guests have an enjoyable time” is bonfire night hosts’ most common priority at 45 per cent
34 per cent of hosts will prioritise ensuring their guests have enough to eat or drink
32 per cent of hosts will prioritise the safety of their guests and property

When asked what precautions they would be taking on the night for their bonfire or fireworks, party hosts responded:

4.96 per cent – Don't know; 
8.01 per cent – None of these;
13.78 per cent –  Ensuring that emergency services are easily able to access the event site in case of emergency;  
36.29 per cent – Checking the weather forecast in advance, for the day/night of the planned event;
37.36 per cent – Ensuring that firefighting equipment is close to hand, such as a bucket of water;
37.71 per cent –  Wearing appropriate clothing when setting up the bonfire and/or fireworks display;
47.65 per cent – Ensuring that attendees are a safe distance from the bonfire and/or fireworks display.

When asked what precautions they would be taking on the night for their bonfire, party hosts responded:

25 per cent – Putting water on the bonfire at the end of the evening;
42 per cent – Keeping the bonfire away from fences and sheds.

When asked what precautions they would be taking on the night for their fireworks, party hosts responded:

23 per cent – Checking for firework safety instructions online;
52 per cent – Reading the instructions on the fireworks packet.

18-34s prioritise the size of their bonfire most highly (26 per cent) compared to other age groups, while 16 per cent prioritise safety – less than any other age group.

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,110 adults, of which 230 are planning on hosting an event for bonfire night. Fieldwork was undertaken between October 31 – November 1, 2016. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).


Chief Fire Officers Association
St John Ambulance
The Guardian
Press Association

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