Pyrotechnic Regulations a necessary inconvenience or an un-necessary evil?

Most people would say that regulation is an un-necessary evil that bureaucrats put in place to make business harder and more expensive….

If you sell pyro or use pyro, believe it or not you are part of the explosives industry; yes all pyro no matter what size or category e.g. Fireworks, sparklers, airbags, theatrical and film effects smokes, ammunition, C4 etc. are all classed as explosives; yes granted some are more powerful than others, however they are all still classed as explosives.

The explosives industry is the second most regulated industry in the world; the first is the nuclear industry. Explosives regulations generally fall into five types, manufacture, transport regulations, storage regulations, supply regulations and use regulations. So is this all necessary?

Explosives have an inherent hazard; they go bang or at best just burn. It is this power that needs to be determined in order to control who, how and where it can be manufactured; also how it can be transported, where and how much can be stored and to whom it may be supplied or who may use it. If this is not accounted for and the wrong people use it, too much is stored or it is stored incorrectly, then it generally goes wrong and in turn becomes a huge hazard.

So how do we determine the risk or hazard from an explosive?

Determination of an explosives hazard is carried out by a series of tests which in essence, explode it, burn it, and submit it to friction and impact to see what happens; it usually results in a large fire or explosion.

Reaction to external stimuli

The explosive material is subjected to impact, friction and electrostatic stimuli in order to determine if it is safe enough to transport in the first place. If it is not safe enough to transport then it cannot be moved from the manufacturing site.

Ignition test

The explosive is ignited within its packaging. An instant mass explosion of the entire contents is the worst case scenario; ignition of the device with a small fire is probable; the best case scenario would be the packaging contains the effect.

Bonfire test

A number of packages of the explosive or explosive devices are placed on top of a steel mesh table; a bonfire is then lit and the results are recorded on several cameras to see what happens. A large explosion which scatters debris and fire in all directions is the worst case scenario; a nice bonfire you can toast marshmallows over is the best scenario, although less interesting.

 Sept 12 008

The results of these tests determine the explosive hazard. There are 5 classes of explosive hazard, each given their own numerical identification number; the class determines how the explosive may be transported.


Explosives 1.1


1.1   – Worst Case Scenario – Mass Explosion Hazard – Transport by road only. (e.g. some military explosives, Very large professional fireworks, high explosives, vary large maroons)

1.2    – Major projection hazard but not mass explosion hazard. (e.g. propelled grenades, some ammunition that projects a device.)

1.3    – Major Blast Hazard but not mass explosion. Transport by sea and road only. (e.g. large professional and consumer fireworks etc.)

1.4G – Minor Explosion / Fire hazard – Transport by Road, Sea and Cargo Aircraft. (e.g. Larger theatrical pyro, smaller fireworks, Simulation Pyro inc. MK5 Thunderflash, and Large             Smoke devices)

1.4S – Minor Fire Hazard – Transport by Road, Sea, Cargo and Passenger Aircraft. (e.g. smaller smoke products, indoor fireworks, smaller theatrical pyro and other very low hazard             pyrotechnics)


Letters are also used to further describe the class of explosive for example:

G: Pyrotechnic substance or article containing a pyrotechnic substance, or article containing both an explosive substance and an illuminating, incendiary, tear-producing or smoke-producing substance (not including water-activated articles or those containing white phosphorus, phosphide or flammable liquids or gels or hypergolic liquids) (1.1G, 1.2G, 1.3G, 1.4G). Examples include Flares, signals, incendiary or illuminating ammunition and other smoke and tear producing devices.

S: Substance or article so packed or designed that any hazardous effects arising from accidental functioning is limited to the extent that they do not significantly hinder or prohibit fire fighting or other emergency response efforts in the immediate vicinity of the package (1.4S).

The packaging of an explosive is one of the main elements to its classification; the same explosive product packed in two completely different ways may change from 1.3G to 1.1G.  Therefore the packaging has to be correct, fit for the job.  Each type of packaging is given a specific code number (UN Code) which identifies the package and what that package may hold (generic examples shown below).

Generic Steel Drum

UN = United Nations
1 = Drum
A = Steel
1 = Non-removable head
X = Packing group I
550 = Hydraulic pressure test in kPa(kelvin Pascals)
97 = Year of manufacture 1997
GB = The authorising country
0103 = Certification number of package design


Generic Cardboard Box

UN = United Nations
4G = Fibreboard Box
X = Packing Group 1
13 = Maximum Gross Mass of box including contents
S = Inner packages required
97 = Year of manufacture 1997
GB = The country where the package was authorised
0662 = Certificate number of the package design


The same type of packaging must be used when transporting the explosives as in the tests described above. Therefore the UN code on the side of the package must be the same as the explosive classification certificate.

Containers of explosive materials must be correctly marked (correct name, UN number, weights, UN packaging mark) and labelled (orange diamonds and subsequent labels) in order to correctly identify the contents.


To avoid endangering people and property explosives may only be transported in the modes that their classification allows. For example shipping 1.1 or 1.3 is not allowed by air as it endangers the plane. It may sound odd that you have to be trained to ship explosives by road, sea or air, but it is this training that ensures that the packaging is correct, the labelling is correct and the mode of transport is correct and that all persons within the transport chain are aware of the hazards.

The classification of an explosive also provides information how it should be stored, in what quantities and at what distances from other explosive stores.  Storing the same quantity of Hazard 1.1 explosives and Hazard 1.4S explosives require completely different requirements as would be expected.

Explosives are commonly stored and transported in shipping containers, however performing tests on shipping containers is both difficult and expensive. The above tests were developed to enable small batches of explosive products to be tested and the results enable the prediction of on what would happen on the larger scale (iso-containers). The following video of tests carried out by a multi-national group, shows what happens to different types and quantities of explosives (in this case fireworks) when ignited in an iso-container. The top right of the video shows the hazard class. Remember when viewing this, these are typical fireworks used commonly throughout the world.

The video below shows the Enschede Firework disaster. A firework company with a good safety record was storing fireworks in close proximity to housing. The company was found to be storing too many fireworks however this was considered to be too close to houses for any store.

This disaster killed 23 people including four fire fighters, and injured 947, 400 homes were destroyed and 1500 buildings damaged. The biggest blast was felt up to 30 kilometres (19 mi) from the scene.

If used or stored incorrectly and with little experience, even the most basic and low energy explosives can be as deadly as the highest energy explosives.

The following video shows what happened in a night club in Rhode Island, some simple low powered silver fountains were being used by amateurs to enhance a band. The product they used had a 20ft height effect in a club with a 10ft high ceiling, the club caught fire killing a total of 100 people.

Caution after the first 45 seconds there are some disturbing scenes

So, regulation will never prevent a hazard if products are misused or if someone deliberately sets it off to cause a fire; however if followed, regulations prevent accidents happening.

Regulations are in place to ensure an explosive is given the correct classification and is correctly stored, transported, is safe to use and used safely. Without these regulations anyone could make anything, send it anywhere for use by anyone and whilst that sounds great, many lives could be endangered because of this freedom.  Whilst there are many regulations in our society today that we put down to “Health and Safety” that seemingly hinder our businesses or stop our enjoyment, there are also ones that are there to protect life and in our case our industry.

With this in mind if you are storing, transporting or using explosives even ones you consider to be of little consequence, find out what you need to do in order to keep the industry as safe as possible. Our website contains all the information you need to know on the products that we manufacture; if you do have any questions please just ask.

It’s not all doom and gloom, with correct manufacture, storage and use, explosives can be both useful and beautiful.

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