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Front Page » June 16, 2005 » Focus on Health and Safety » Watching for sight and limb
Published 3,763 days ago

Watching for sight and limb

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There is nothing like the bright light of fireworks shining in kids eyes.

That is until the light goes out.

Firework safety is no joke, and in recent years looser restrictions on fireworks in many areas have increased injuries to both children and adults.

Americans love to celebrate with fireworks, but while they used to be a tradition mostly on the Fourth of July, in many parts of the country, fireworks are now a mainstay of weddings, birthday parties, picnics and any other occasion of celebration. In Utah there is particularly one other celebration where fireworks are used and that is Pioneer Day, July 24. That puts fireworks being used right in the middle of the fire season and over the years dozens of home and wildfires have been started by fireworks being used on that state holiday.

In reality the injury rate on legal fireworks has declined over 84 percent since the Consumer Products Safety Commission began to closely monitor the fireworks industry a number of years ago. While usage continues to expand on an annual basis, the injury rate drops every year.

However that doesn't mean things are all hunky dorry with fireworks. As with almost every type of human endeavor, people push the envelope on what they can legally do and in this case they sometimes literally get burned.

In many cases emergency room workers can tell when fireworks stands go up in an area; the number of injuries that come in go up in number and the cases are usually related to burns, eye damage and sometimes missing digits.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) monitors a sample of hospital rooms and produces annual injury estimates associated with a number of consumer products based upon the injuries that are recorded on these selected hospitals.

CPSC emphasizes that estimates are based on injuries relating to fireworks, but it is incorrect to say that injuries were caused by the product. Also, the figure covers injury reports associated with all types of fireworks, including accidents involving homemade items and large, illegal explosive devices.

In 1976, CPSC enacted national standards for family-type fireworks in response to a petition calling on CPSC to ban all fireworks except for licensed public displays. All fireworks now legally available for sale to consumers must comply with the CPSC rules. Since the adoption of these regulations, the amount of fireworks used each year has doubled, suggesting that the injury rate in terms of injuries per one million pounds of fireworks ignited has declined significantly.

A recent report prepared by CPSC analyzed injury data collected over a seven year period. The study concluded, "In instances where legal types of fireworks were involved in accidents, either from misuse or malfunction, the resulting injuries were relatively minor and did not require hospitalization."

The CPSC study also noted that a majority of the injuries from the "consumer" or family-type fireworks involved misuse rather than malfunction.

Illegal fireworks continue to be a serious problem. Over the past 10 years, 30-33 percent of the injuries associated with fireworks have typically been caused by illegal explosives or homemade fireworks. In Utah it has been common practice for people to travel to Wyoming to buy fireworks that are legal there, but illegal in the Beehive State. Another source is also Nevada. People will travel to Las Vegas or Mesquite to gamble throughout the year and buy fireworks during their trip, bring them home and save them for celebrations.

Other fireworks that people obtain through the black market or even on the internet are legal in few areas. One of the most famous fireworks is the M-80 firecracker (firecrackers of all kinds are legal in only a few states and those are of limited power). The M-80 is actually a mini-grenade. It has great explosive power, and can be thrown in water because of it's special fuse and will still go off. A favorite thing for those who use these to do is to put them in a can and watch it explode.

However, the M-80 is basically a bomb and the shrapnel that can be flung from the exploding device inside a can may end the sight of whoever is watching.

However, today's legal consumer fireworks are primarily noted from their beautiful visual effects rather than explosive noise. With the enactment of rigid safety standards for consumer fireworks, a safe, enjoyable backyard fireworks display is now possible.

Yet despite the fireworks industries attempts to make their products more user friendly has also resulted in more and more people handling them, including those who know little about the dangers.

According to the latest statistics from the CPSC, fireworks accounted for approximately 9,300 injuries in 2003 with nearly 14% of those eye related. These figures do not take into account those who were left untreated, injuries that occur anonymously to children and bystanders in the backyards of America. This is of great concern to Scott Barnes, OD, Clinical Director of TLC Laser Eye Care Center, Salt Lake City.

"Every year, I hear about or see those whose eyesight has been greatly compromised or lost due to carelessness when handling fireworks. The consensus among eye care professionals is not to play with fire - literally. Leave the fireworks to the festivals and fairs in your area. They organize and plan the best displays and charge little or nothing for you to enjoy."

Barnes goes on to say that people often believe they are handling so- called "safe" alternatives when they buy sparklers, bottle rockets or other less volatile pyrotechnics. He says they are mistaken. "Sparklers are responsible for a majority of the injuries to children under five. They can burn at 1800 degrees Fahrenheit, enough to rob a child of their eyesight. Enough to melt gold," warns Barnes.

Those who wish to use fireworks with family and friends are urged to wear eye protection. Safety goggles and eyeglasses are readily available at nearby hardware store.

In some counties, fireworks are heavily regulated due to the Federal Hazardous Substances Act or are illegal. And in some places they are illegal as well. In many camping spots fireworks are not allowed due to the high fire danger at some times of the year, particularly in July when the growth of plants is mature and often dried out.

While it seems there is a lot of common sense that should be used each year when using fireworks, that aspect of human behavior seems to go right out the door sometimes.

For instance, every year injuries and sometimes death result from individuals carelessly using fireworks inside automobiles. Operating an automobile takes concentration. Using fireworks takes concentration. The NCFS urges people to never to mix these two tasks.

Ralph Apel, President of the NCFS, said that fireworks should never be used in an automobile or thrown from a vehicle. Fireworks should always be used outdoors in a clear area, away from buildings and combustibles

"When handled properly and used responsibly, consumer fireworks provide enjoyment and recreation for families across the country. Every year, however, preventable tragedies occur," said Apel.

Here are some important safety tips about fireworks.

•Observe Local Laws and use Common Sense. Fireworks are not toys. They don't mix with alcohol. They should never be ignited in a closed area, including vehicles. Don't smoke around fireworks. Use them wisely.

•Only adults should use fireworks. Never give fireworks to young children. Accidents happen when fireworks fall into the wrong hands.

•Be responsible. Accidents can be prevented.

•Never point or throw fireworks at another person. Always think safety first.

•Throwing fireworks from cars invites tragedy. Use only Outdoors, away from buildings and vehicles. Never use fireworks in a confined space.

•Light only one firework at a time. After lighting, step back from the device. Do not try to re light a "dud". Never look into a firework tube or mortar

•Do not experiment with home made fireworks. Making fireworks is extremely risky and dangerous.

Price firefighters Frank Peczuh and Paul Bedont take a fireworks launcher out of the ground after last years display at the Carbon County Fairgrounds. Most health and fire officials feel that watching fireworks set off by professionals is the best and safest way to observe a celebration or holiday.

About Firework Safety

* Do not rub the eye. Rubbing the eye may increase bleeding or make the injury worse.

* Do not attempt to rinse out the eye. This can be even more damaging than rubbing.

* Do not apply pressure to the eye itself. Holding or taping a foam cup or the bottom of a juice carton to the eye are just two tips. Protecting the eye from further contact with any item, including the child's hand, is the goal.

* Do not stop for medicine! Over-the-counter pain relievers will not do much to relieve pain. Aspirin (should never be given to children) and ibuprofen can thin the blood, increasing bleeding. Take the child to the emergency room at once - this is more important than stopping for a pain reliever.

* Do not apply ointment. Ointment, which may not be sterile, makes the area around the eye slippery and harder for the doctor to examine.

* Do not let your child play with fireworks, even if his/her friends are setting them off. Sparklers burn at 1800 degrees Fahrenheit and bottle rockets can stray off course or throw shrapnel when they explode.

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