OHSU Offers Fireworks Safety Tips

07/03/01    Portland, Ore.

Fireworks can cause amputations, blinding, severe burns or death

Fireworks injured about 11,000 Americans last year, and about half of those injured were younger than 15. Improper use of fireworks or setting off illegal fireworks can cause blinding, amputations, severe burns or death. "Fireworks are inherently dangerous," said Beverly Bauman, M.D., associate professor of emergency medicine in Oregon Health & Science University's School of Medicine..

Most patients who visit the OHSU Hospital emergency department for fireworks-related injuries have small burns on their arms and legs, or eye injuries. Each year in the United States, approximately 2,400 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms for eye injuries caused by fireworks. Twenty-five percent of those injuries result in permanent vision loss or blindness. "Eye injuries happen in less than a second but often cause lifelong visual impairment," said David Wheeler, M.D., assistant professor of ophthalmology at OHSU's Casey Eye Institute.

Doctors at OHSU offer the following tips to avoid injuries:

  • Never allow children to play with fireworks. About half of those injured last year were under age 15.
  • Read and follow all fireworks warnings and instructions.
  • Be sure other people are out of range before lighting fireworks.
  • Never try to relight fireworks that have not fully functioned.
  • Keep a bucket of water nearby in case of an accident or fire.
  • Only light fireworks on a smooth, flat surface. Fireworks should be lit away from houses, dry leaves and flammable materials.
  • Do not use bottle rockets. They are the most dangerous type of fireworks by far because they fly erratically, frequently injuring bystanders. Bottle rockets cause 67 percent of all fireworks eye injuries. Firecrackers cause 7 percent of eye injuries and Roman candles cause 4 percent.
  • Protect your eyes with safety glasses or safety goggles. Regular prescription glasses, sunglasses or contact lenses provide little or no protection and can actually contribute to an injury.
  • Never put fireworks in glass bottles, tin cans or clay pots because these objects can shatter and cause eye injuries.