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Fireworks Are Pretty Safe

If you read the directions.
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Fireworks in Basel, Switzerland. (PHOTO: VINCENT DE GROOT/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Fireworks in Basel, Switzerland. (PHOTO: VINCENT DE GROOT/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

The Consumer Products Safety Commission has released its annual study of fireworks safety. The rockets' red glare is pretty unlikely to hurt you seriously, it turns out. Last year, six people died in fireworks-related accidents. Sixty percent of the nearly 9,000 annual firework injuries happened around Independence Day, unsurprisingly.

Still. No census of how many people actually light fireworks off each year exists, and sales figures are generally corporate secrets. But a lot more people die swimming over the summer, for example. Or driving to barbeques.

The key to avoiding fireworks injury appears to be, broadly, not treating gunpowder like it's barbeque sauce. The bulk of injuries came from various homemade firecrackers and misuse of powerful rockets. Reading the directions, and not trying to re-invent something the Chinese had pretty much nailed 2,000 years ago, appear to be the trick to avoiding injury, according to the CPSC report:

In the first incident, a 17-year-old male died of injuries sustained when a sparkler bomb that he and his friend made exploded. In the second incident, a 30-year-old male died of severe facial injuries six days after a mortar-type of firework ignited in his face. In the third incident, a 26-year-old male perished when an illegal 1.3G aerial firework device exploded. In the fourth incident, a 60-year-old male died of blunt force trauma when a homemade firework detonated unexpectedly. In the fifth incident, a 30-year-old male suffered severe injuries when explosions destroyed his house while he was making illegal fireworks, and he succumbed five days later. In the sixth incident, a 61-year-old male died at the scene when he ignited a professional-grade firework device while holding its fuse. Reporting of fireworks-related deaths for 2012 is not complete, and the number of deaths in 2012 should be considered a minimum.

Without minimizing the tragedy of those deaths, in each case it does seem like someone was using an explosive device in a manner your average sapper wouldn't advise. What was either end of a "mortar-type of firework" doing anywhere near someone's face? In total, American emergency rooms treated 8,700 firework-related injuries in 2012. "There is not a statistically significant trend in estimated emergency department treated injuries from 1997 to 2012," the study found.

The National Safety Council's 2011 "Injury Facts" study found that by comparison, virtually anything that isn't a firework is likely to hurt you today. More than 42,000 people were injured by first aid equipment itself, according to the study. (Tragically, details were not provided.) Slightly fewer, 40,000-plus, were injured in refrigerator-related accidents. An estimated 23,866 were injured by "hair grooming equipment and other accessories" (we're going with electrocution while drying one's hair in the shower on that one). A similar 23,808 were sent to the emergency room because of injury by luggage. (For the last time: keep it under the bed, empty. Not up in the closet with your old comic book collection inside.)

Fifty-one thousand aquarium-related injuries were recorded, making small amounts of water, or at least fish, more than five times more dangerous than toy explosives. Six hundred thousand people were injured by their own beds. If only they'd slept with some fireworks under the pillow.

So enjoy your BBQ, and read the damn directions on the sparklers, and you'll be fine. Now here's Katy Perry: