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Safety Excerpt by Bill Ofca

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#1 BurlHorse



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Posted 28 January 2004 - 11:25 PM


No where is the potential for accident more real than in the operations of making fireworks. I have heard comments ranging from, "it just happens," to "all accidents are preventable." I'm not a fatalist and do not subscribe to the idea that, "accidents just happen." The fact is that accidents are preventable. This fact gives us the incentive to avoid the known hazards. It also gives us the incentive to identify the unknown hazards during experimental research and to investigate the probable cause hazard after an accident. If you believe "accidents just happen," then you have a limited future in fireworks.

The hazards of fireworks can be placed in four categories:

1. Accidental ignition due to spontaneous combustion.

2. Accidental ignition due to static electricity.

3. Accidental ignition due to human carelessness.

4. Poisoning due to mishandling of toxic chemicals

In the first category, ignition due to spontaneous combustion, the accident usually occurs from mixing chemicals that are incompatible, especially in a wet state such as in making stars. Sometimes the reaction can be subtle (without ignition;) and go unnoticed until the stars have dried. Then the mixture may be unstable and extremely sensitive to friction or be so hygroscopic that it becomes wet again on a future humid day. Combining ammonium perchlorate and potassium nitrate yields this reaction. Stars that are hygroscopic can also become wet again inside a shell that has recently been pasted. A wet star containing sulfur could spell out spontaneous disaster when assembled with a potassium or barium chlorate star. Leaving wet star composition laying around (in bulk), especially if they contain any metal powders, is an invitation to spontaneous combustion. Acids or alkalinity can form to attack and corrode the metal powder creating heat. The increased temperature aids the reaction by stimulating more electron activity to form stronger acids or alkalinity, which further increase the heat. The water begins to vaporize and the heat continues to build until there is not enough water to prevent combustion. Toxic gases can be released during the heat;-up stage making the air dangerous to breathe. Some reactions are slow taking days, weeks or months and no combustion occurs due to the low level of heat generation. Yet the products of reaction can be hazardous or render the intended mix useless as a fireworks item.

In the second category, accidental ignition due to static electricity, we can also include electric sparks from other sources such as light switches, motors, etc. If fireworks powders are to be mixed indoors, a tremendous amount of electrical engineering and special fixtures are necessary for assurance against ignition of airborne dust due to electrical spark. Explosion proof conduit, lighting and outlet fixtures, and junction boxes are also very costly. The easiest way to avoid that cost is to simply mix powders outdoors. A pole barn or gazebo structure overcomes the problem of rain, and the electrical hazards to air born dust are isolated.

Static electricity is a problem all of its own, and controlling it is more difficult simply because we never know when it is going to occur. We can, however, take steps to reduce its hazard.

Workers should wear only cotton clothing and this includes socks and undergarments. The work room floor and tables should be conductive and earth grounded through a 100 thousand ohm resistor. The resistor allows the static charges to "bleed off" and prevents a sparking arc. The resistor should be in series with the ground source. Workers should also wear special conductive shoes which, if worn daily, should be discarded for a new pair at least once a year. Conductive shoes can be obtained through most popular shoe stores, or orthopedic specialty shoe stores. Chemical mixing, especially with metal powders, should be done on days when the relative humidity is 65% or better and during the warmer seasons. When the air is warm, it holds much more water for a given percentage of relative humidity than for the same percentage when cold. Humid air reduces the chance of an arcing static spark because the charges bleed off at lower voltage levels than necessary for an arc to occur. If mixing is done indoors, the work room should be climate controlled for 65% relative humidity at 70 degrees F, +/- 10%. Avoid using plastic containers for mixing, measuring, or storing. Solidly ground all electrical equipment and machinery.

In the third category, human carelessness is where most fireworks accidents can be attributed. "The responsible person knew better, but took a chance anyway," or "he just didn't know any better." The number one rule everyone making fireworks should adopt is: "If you don't know, you don't do!" At least until you know all the facts about what it is you intend to do. I firmly believe one of the biggest contributing factors for this industry's poor safety record (in the U. S. A.) is the prevalent attitude of prideful secrecy among professionals, and the ignorant curiosity of man. Don't do unless you know. For example: you have just mixed a 5 ounce batch of a new formula using chemicals you know nothing about. The formula works. Should you go ahead with making a 20 pound batch? Have you done friction sensitivity tests? Impact tests? Chemical compatibility research? Toxicity research? Or have you only decided a 5 ounce sample worked good when ignited? A lot of unknown hazards could exist that are difficult or impossible to control or need special handling consideration in larger batches, especially when wet mixing for stars.

Familiarity breeds contempt. The fire worker should remind himself of this daily. We are all prone to fall into the trap. When a particular operation has been accident, or incident free for many years, it doesn't mean an accident can't ever happen. If we let our guard down, or take short cuts and chances, an accident will happen.

Mother nature (physics and chemistry) has set the rules that we must identify and abide by if we are to play with her toys. In fireworks, you can't fool nature and get away with it. It makes no difference who you are, how much money you have, or how much knowledge you possess no man is forgiven for breaking the rules. It takes self discipline to be careful, and being careful is cheap insurance. One who scoffs at safety rules is truly a fool.

Poisoning due to mishandling chemicals seems to be the least concern of most pyros, as so little has been written on the subject. Fires and explosions make spectacular news reports, and the thought of being involved is certainly terrifying. Yet death by poisoning is the same as death by fire, and can be equally agonizing for the victims and their families.

Have you ever mixed a batch of black powder, then blew your nose to find the tissue paper full of black? What about the black that didn't come out? You can be sure that some of it made it to your lungs. Finely powdered chemicals become air born during mixing, and almost all fireworks chemicals are toxic to one degree or another. They can enter your blood stream through your lungs, eyes, ears, mouth, throat, stomach, under fingernails or in some cases are absorbed through the skin. Symptoms of poisoning include any one of the following: fatigue, headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, cramps, double vision, diarrhea, nose bleeds, burning blood shot eyes, or skin rashes. Poisoning can be mild (unnoticed) to severe (resulting in death). But I ask, what are the long term effects to exposure? Know your chemicals! Most public libraries have chemical dictionaries which spell out the toxic hazards. Ask suppliers for material safety data sheets. Obtain and use quality safety equipment such as: dust respirator, face shield or safety goggles, apron, and rubber gloves. Shower after handling or mixing chemicals. Clean your fingernails which can trap nasty little doses that will inevitably end up in your mouth, eyes, nose or other personal body parts of yourself or other intimate loved one. Wash your clothes twice and separate from the laundry of others. Again, this is cheap insurance.

I believe most, if not all people, love the spectacular beauty of fireworks. Yet these same people are the first to ask: "You make fireworks? Isn't it very dangerous? Are you nuts!??" It is we, all of us who make fireworks, who have given this industry a black eye. Isn't it time to turn it around?

Safety is a constant and on-going state of consciousness. It doesn't exist unless we make it exist, daily. All the aspects of safety and accident prevention can not be stated in such a brief essay on the subject. If I have made you think, than some good will come of it.

Regards, Stay Green

There are old pyros, and there are bold pyros, but there are not very many old, bold pyros....

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#2 Richard H

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Posted 28 January 2004 - 11:29 PM

An excellent post Bear, I shall pin this so it permanently remains in view.

#3 BurlHorse



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Posted 01 February 2004 - 08:32 PM

Thanks, But All credit for this belongs to Bill Ofca, Safety guru! I am just sharing with all.

Read and Think!!

Regards, Stay green,

There are old pyros, and there are bold pyros, but there are not very many old, bold pyros....

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#4 Guest_PyromaniaMan_*

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Posted 18 August 2005 - 07:45 PM

What if you get struck by lightning? :P

No those really are some good guidelines, and i think a link to this topic should be posted in the rules, just to reinforce it.

#5 paul


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Posted 07 October 2007 - 11:11 AM

Hey guys. Today I ran across a PDF (unfortunately for you guys, itīs german) what to do when an accident happened!

I think our discussion is too much about how to avoid accidents. But fact is:

---> Accidents DO happen, even if itīs just a small burn on you thumb or something <---

Everyone whoīs got a drivers license should know how to treat most of the wounds/injuries
but I just think itīs a MUST to collect information about how to treat burnings/etc right!

What do you think about a pinned thread with proven!!! information on treating burnings, stopping
bleedings, treating your eyes with the righ method if somethingīs got in them!

My flickr photo album

My first very own firework pictures are online!!!

#6 Arthur Brown

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Posted 07 October 2007 - 10:18 PM

Ok first response!

How to call an ambulance! Think where you are before you need to tell the operator where you can be found! It really doesn't help if you cannot tell the crew where to find the victim! Think how you will call the emergency services if you need. If it's a public display at the first sign of an incident people will call someone on a mobile, filling all the local cells, you could need walkie talkie to a land line phone

Burn, If it's bigger than the victim's little finger nail, then immerse in clean water dont burst any blisters, call an ambulance. Have some clingfilm to cover the wound if it is open.

The clingfilm actually does help a/ to keep the moisture in, and b/ to support the skin if its natural elasticity is impaired by the wound.

It could be me in the ambulance looking for you!

Keep mannequins and watermelons away from fireworks..they always get hurt..

#7 whoof


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Posted 14 February 2014 - 10:19 PM

Ok first response!

How to call an ambulance!

Or any other emergency service.

It is very helpful for planned events to have notices posted with location details.
Postcode and gps coordinates if possible.
Phone operators spend a lot of time trying to ascertain location .
Road accidents are terrible for this, its surprising how many people do not know where they are these days.

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