Starting a career in firewoks

We’re often asked ‘How can I start up my own professional fireworks display company in the UK?’ – and the answer is it’s not as easy as you might think. Here’s a quick guide to setting up in the UK, and please be warned, it’s far from straightforward. You’ll need a lot of land and a lot of money, but if you have both, then read on… Many of our BPA member companies have been in business for a considerable amount of time, some for several decades, and over that time have built up the size of their businesses quite significantly.

To set up a professional fireworks company, you’ll need to look at each of these:

(i) Storage – you’ll need a lot of land for this. Storage sites need to be secure and are usually placed on remote locations where you can have the necessary legal separation distances between your firework storage buildings and the nearest habitation/workplace/road/public footpath. Typically storage sites are located on farms, but more recently firework companies have come up with a number of ingenious locations, the key factor being a large amount of space available to maintain the necessary separation distances. The law governing explosive storage facilities is The Manufacture and Storage of Explosives Regulations 2005 – make sure you have a good read of this and the Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) that goes with it – you’ll need to comply fully with both.

(ii) Licence – you can’t start up without a licence. Most (but not all) firework display companies have a licence to store over 2 tonnes of fireworks – sounds a lot, but it isn’t really, our members will go through many times that quantity each, every November. If you store over 2 tonnes of fireworks then you’ll need a licence from the Health and Safety Executive Explosives Inspectorate. There are links to HSE Explosives Inspectorate elsewhere on this website, and you’ll find guidance and licence fee pricing on that site. Applying for a licence requires the drawing of detailed plans and preparation of building storage schedules. An inspector will visit your proposed site, and once agreed, will issue a draft licence. You then need to go through what’s called the Assent Process – advertising your application in the area local to your proposed site and normally carrying out an assent hearing – a kind of public enquiry/meeting into your application. If as a result of the assent process the Local Authority grants its assent (or its blessing), then your licence is issued. Once you have a licence and your site is operating, an inspector from the explosives inspectorate will visit your site regularly to check that you are complying – sometimes these visits are by arrangement, but often the inspector will just turn up on the day without warning you in advance.

(iii) Insurance – ok, so you’ve now got a storage site and a licence – next you need insurance. You’ll need year round specialist explosives insurance for your storage site and also your operations. That will cover not only your staff (employers liability insurance), but also your displays (public liability insurance). The entry level for public liability insurance today really is £5 million cover, but in fact many venues and events now demand £10 million cover which will set you back a little more. Your insurance company may ask to see copies of your operating procedures and meet with you and visit your site before making an offer.

(iv) Fireworks – you’ve two options for your fireworks. You can either buy from a trade supplier here in the UK at a trade price, or alternatively you can import your own fireworks directly from China. If you import then you’ll need to visit China, view various products demos, purchase your fireworks and then arrange shipping and documentation. Before the fireworks arrive in the UK you need to have every single one classified by the HSE Explosives Inspectorate. This involves providing ingredients lists, construction details and cross-section diagrams of every firework. Only once HSE have classified the firework may it enter the country. Classification is a very serious process, and is not just a rubber-stamp exercise.

(v) Equipment – you’ll need firing equipment to carry out your displays. This will include mortar racks for firing shells (you’ll need one tube for every shell you fire in a display), along with candle and comet stands, equipment for displaying set pieces (wheels, firework messages etc), along with personal protection equipment including fireproof clothing, headwear, eye protection, gloves, ear defenders, first aid kits, eye wash, fire extinguishers of various types. You’ll also need a computerised firing system if you intend firing choreographed shows (and a supply of electric igniters to use in it). You’ll need to carry out destructive testing on your firing equipment to ensure it’s fit for purpose – if you don’t, and you have an accident, the consequences could be extremely serious. You’ll also need a supply of specialist approved packing material in which to put your firework displays when you make them up before they go on the road. If you have your own cartons, then you’ll need a packing certificate issued by the VCA (vehicle certification agency) for each carton before you can transport the displays on the road.

(vi) Training – there’s a whole myriad of training and qualifications that are required in the display industry here in the UK. First and foremost, you need to know how to safely work with and fire professional (Cat4) display fireworks. Training on the BPA firer’s course is suitable for this and will equip you well to go out and fire your shows. In addition, all of your firer’s should receive Dangerous Goods Awareness Training (as required by ADR regulations), and your drivers will have to attend ADR training courses and hold ADR certificates before they can drive fireworks around – if they don’t and they’re stopped by the Highways Officers or Police, you risk prosecution! You’ll also need by law a Dangerous Goods Safety Adviser (you can appoint one privately, or study for the course and sit the exam yourself). Of course you need the basics too, such as trained First Aiders and maybe even Fork Lift Truck drivers. If you don’t have a good understanding of Health and Safety At Work legislation then you may need to attend a course on this too, as many display customers today require very high quality risk assessments and method statements before they’ll let you fire a display.

It probably seems like quite a lot of things you need to do today to be in the firework industry, and indeed it is, but really it’s all with safety in mind, and is something that all BPA members comply with right from the outset. If you don’t do everything that’s required and you have an accident during a firework display or anywhere else for that matter, then the consequences will be very serious and could lead to you, as an individual, being fined or even jailed.