Vets call for action on strengthening fireworks legislation

Posted On: 
5th November 2019

Easy access to loud fireworks is putting the UK's animals at risk of avoidable pain, suffering, and distress, says Daniella Dos Santos, President, BVA.

Current controls on the use and sale of fireworks, as well as controls to mitigate noise levels, do not go far enough to adequately safeguard the health and welfare of animals in the UK, says Daniella Dos Santos, President, BVA.
Credit: 
PA Images

Fireworks season can be a fun time for many people, but the loud, high-pitched noises and bright flashes can be extremely traumatic for animals across species, from pets and livestock to horses, wildlife and zoo animals, who have no way of understanding what is happening around them.

Current controls on the use and sale of fireworks, as well as controls to mitigate noise levels, do not go far enough to adequately safeguard the health and welfare of animals in the UK. That is why the British Veterinary Association is urging policy makers to prioritise stricter legislation on how and when they are used and sold.

What’s the issue?

Under current laws, fireworks can be set off by anyone over the age of 18 years between 7.00am and 11.00pm on any day of the year. On Bonfire Night, the cut off is extended until midnight, while for New Year’s Eve, Diwali and Chinese New Year it’s until 1 am.

The permitted noise threshold for fireworks means they can reach up to 150 decibels, which is as loud as the noise from a jet engine. As many animals have more acute hearing than humans, such loud and high-pitched noises can cause distress, fear or the development of phobia responses.

Our members often see the results of firework-induced anxiety in pets, livestock and horses at this time of the year. In BVA’s Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey last December, around 1 in 14 vets across the country reported seeing animals with firework-related injuries over 2018. Equine vets were significantly more likely to report such cases, with almost one in five seeing firework injuries last year. By far the most commonly reported cases were self injuries caused by fireworks-related anxiety: for example, a dog who tried to escape from its kennel and in the process pulled out all of its front teeth, including the canines, and a horse that suffered a fractured splint bone as it bolted from its field.

The negative impact isn’t restricted to noise levels either; the debris and remnants of fireworks in fields and surrounding countryside can also pose a risk to the health and welfare of livestock and wildlife.

Key government asks

That is why we have joined up with other animal welfare and human health organisations, such Dogs Trust, Blue Cross, Children’s Burns Trust and SSAFA-the Armed Forces charity, to urge Government to introduce stricter legislation to deal with this serious issue. In August, the group met with representatives from the Office for Product Safety and Standards at BEIS to feed into the evidence review they are currently conducting.

The 13 recommendations set out in our updated fireworks policy position include restricting the private use of fireworks to agreed traditional dates and the weekend closest to which these dates fall. This would bring controls on use in line with controls on sale, which requires retailers to have a licence to sell fireworks outside of these traditional dates.

The window for sales of fireworks without a licence is also disproportionately long around Bonfire Night at present, with sales permitted from 5 October to 10 November. This should be restricted to a shorter timeframe, as with other traditional dates set out in fireworks legislation.

Our other key asks for the UK governments include reducing the noise limit of fireworks for public use and sale to 97 decibels with a 15-metre safety distance, clearly labelling fireworks to indicate their noise level to consumers- for instance, ‘low noise firework’ or ‘loud firework: risk to animal welfare’; and improving public awareness of the potential negative impact of fireworks on animal health and welfare through government communication channels.

Additionally, all public displays and organised events using fireworks should be required to be licensed by the relevant authority, with license holders giving advance notice of any such events to all local residents, with the option for them to appeal against it. License holders must also pay due regard to how their firework display may impact on companion animals, wildlife, horses and livestock in the local area, as well as how they are going to dispose of debris and remnants of fireworks.

You can take a look at all our recommendations here. 

We’ve also produced advice for pet owners and livestock keepers, which can be seen here.  

It’s clear from last year’s parliamentary drop-in event that the case for stronger fireworks legislation has strong cross-party support. We hope that the UK governments and policy makers will heed our calls and support a review of current fireworks legislation, to help ensure a quieter, calmer and safer festive season for our pets and livestock in the future.