Hobbyist Safety Tips
The following are safety tips - our pyro hobby is dangerous if safety isn't scrupulously practiced. Don't bring disrespect to the hobby by taking unnecessary shortcuts or using unsafe practices. These safety tips are from several sources including sites that are for making fireworks illegal - they are using our own safety record against us so we need to combat that by cleaning up our act! Other sources include the rec.pyrotechnics FAQ (long out-of-date) and general books on the subject.
1. Keep your area clean. Don't let waste build up and always properly dispose of trash that has chemical contamination.
Properly dispose of fireworks debris. Fireworks debris can re-ignite.
Orangevale, California. House fire on Bikini Court: Fire officials said the family had used fireworks earlier in the evening, but instead of soaking them in water, they tossed them into a garbage can alongside the house. The trash inside the can caught fire and the flames spread to the house. Damage: $80,000. 4.7.2005
2. Keep chemicals from contacting each other. Buy a box of plastic spoons and allocate one for each of your chemicals - don't mix the dipping spoons and your chemicals won't become contaminated.
3. As a hobbyist, it is probably unnecessary to use chlorates. However, if you find you simply must use them, keep the work area for them separate from your normal work area. Chlorates, especially potassium chlorate, are extremely dangerous when mixed with sulfur or compounds with sulfur in them.
George, Iowa. Byron Kaiser (52) illegally making powerful fireworks died Friday after the materials ignited, causing an explosion so powerful that it blew off his hands. He was mixing together gun powder, sulfur, chlorate and phosphorous in his living room at the time of the blast. Lyon County Sheriff Blythe Bloomendaal described the fireworks Kaiser was making as being in tubes about round as a half-dollar and about 3-inches long, probably ten times the power of a normal M-80, a powerful firework illegal in the United States. The blast blew the windows out of the home and sent shrapnel through the living room walls. 6.6.2004
4. Don't have open compounds or stars or fuse in your work area. Only open up what you are working on - keep everything else tightly covered and out of your work area.
5. Don't ball mill indoors or near inhabited buildings. The best bet is to take a long extension cord and move the ball mill to a small bunker made with dirt or timbers. Ball mills have and will continue to explode.
The mill above exploded after about two hours of running
Notice the scoured ground, singed lawn mower and bent
metal frameworks. The person milling it was doing so remotely
and was about 250 feet away. He said the ground trembled
when it exploded. He had no doubt that if it had been
inside a building, the building would have been razed.
Straight BP was being milled.
6. As a hobbyist, don't make more fireworks that you will shoot in one outing and don't store them illegally - make them and go shoot them as soon as possible. This is a legal issue as well as a common sense issue.
6. Don't have matches or spark producing tools in your work area. Don't have open flames (such as space heaters) in your work area. Don't smoke around pyro materials.
Santa Cruz. Carelessly discarded smoking material appears to have set off a fire in a storage shed where a small amount of M-100 and 2-inch mortar type of fireworks were kept. Firefighters discovered the fireworks in the debris. 6.4.2006
Source: "Firefighters find fireworks at Santa Cruz shed fire", 6.4.2006, http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/local/14281098.htm
7. Dry your mixes outdoors but not in direct sunlight. If you have a drying cabinet, be sure it isn't a source of ignition. Also, don't dry in a stainless steel bowl. The bowl can concentrate the light and cause an ignition. There have been a few doubters but we finally got a video of the event. Click on the picture below to see it happen
8. Everyone wants to make bangs when they first start this hobby and flash draws people to it like a moths to candles. After you have been experimenting a while, you find that making a bang is too easy - it is the rest of the stuff that is the challenge. Don't make flash or whistle until you are experienced. Then, after you really know what you are doing, take a deep breath and only use flash when you have to - and then use the 'binary method' if you can. Drop the components of flash into the device and seal it. Let normal handling mix it. You don't normally 'have' to make flash - whistle or BP can make nice bangs - and flash can get you killed. Never store quantities of flash or 'make up a batch' ahead of time. Make only what you need and then use it. If you are not totally convinced that flash is dangerous then get on the Internet and look up the last dozen fireworks accidents. It is flash that has brought the most scrutiny to our hobby.
Great Falls. A young man lost most of his right hand after lighting an explosive made by a 16-year-old boy. All that remained of his hand was the man's little finger. The boy was charged with criminal endangerment. 4.7.2005
Firefighters tried without success to pull Ronald Brett Anderson, 49, from his duplex. Anderson was wheelchair-bound. (editor's note: Mr. Anderson burned to death in his wheelchair)
The explosion was caused by homemade pyrotechnic powder, which creates the bang or boom sound in fireworks. 5.14.2008 (cited by LK from the KCTV web page item at: http://www.kctv5.com/news/16266450/detail.html?rss=kan&psp=news
In the picture below are the remains of a garage after a well-known pyro had an accident. The walls were blown out of the garage and it collapsed. He struggled free but he was severely burned and died several days later. Flash is dangerous - be careful.
9. Don't experiment with chemicals - use proven formulas.
10. Wear cotton clothing, safety glasses, a leather welder's apron, and gloves. If working with poisonous compounds - such as barium compounds - wear a dust mask and latex/nitrile gloves. Note that a dust mask uses activated filters and it isn't one of those white paper masks. A real dust mask will cost a few bucks but will save your lungs.
11. Don't grind oxidizers and fuels (mixtures) - grind ingredients separately and in uncontaminated containers. Grinding pyrotechnic mixtures is almost always a really bad idea.
12. Don't consume food or drink in your work area. Don't drink and work with fireworks.
Plainfield, Will County. Police said Steven Glenn, after drinking 10 beers, lit Tuesday night at 25 E. Main St. a 10-inch diameter commercial-grade firework, the type used for professional fireworks shows (that is illegal for Illinois residents to have in possession) and caused an explosion that gutted his home and seriously injured himself and a friend. Glenn was injured by shrapnel and suffered burns. His friend, Shauna Adams, received burns to more than 50% of her body. 3.5.2005
à In the article "Two injured in fireworks play gone bad", http://www.nbc5.com/news/4447045/detail.html?z=dp&dpswid=2265994&dppid=65193 you find under the link "Updated Images: Two Seriously Injured" images and the video "Neighbors describe explosion".
13. If you have a dud firework, leave it alone until you are sure it is extinguished (a couple of hours). Then drown it or burn it using as much care as possible - burning it means it will probably go off so make sure it is being burned in a safe place. Don't relight short-fused duds.
Harris County. A man was lighting an aerial firework. The device was made up of 156 individually loaded launchers linked to one fuse. When the fuse only lit a portion of the fireworks, the man tried to relight the second half. One mortar detonated and hit him in the face, cutting him above his left eye and burning his face. The man was wearing eye protection, which possibly prevented further injury. 1.1.2006
14. Keep your spectators at a safe distance - don't let children play near you when you are making or firing your creations.
Gary, Ind. A 2-year-old girl found fireworks in her basement and lit the device on a stove. It exploded, severing three fingers from her hand. Doctors are trying to save the girl's thumb and index finger. 26.1.2006
"2-year-old girl loses three fingers in explosion", 30.1.2006, http://www.post-trib.com/cgi-bin/pto-story/news/z1/01-30-06_z1_news_08.html
"2-year-old Gary girl loses three fingers in fireworks explosion", 30.1.2006, http://www.fortwayne.com/mld/newssentinel/13748432.htm
15. Don't use plastics for mortar tubes.
Mayville, N.Y. Rita Jacobson (44) was injured on this Independence Day festivities when a device exploded in its launch tube, sending a piece of heavy gauge plastic into her chest. She was flown by helicopter to hospital, where she underwent surgery to remove the shrapnel. Two others were treated for arm and leg injuries from the explosion. Investigators believe the charge to launch the device either failed or was not properly made. 4.7.2005
http://www.newsday.com/news/local/wire/newyork/ny-bc-ny-brf--fireworksmish0705jul05,0,997026.story?coll=ny-region-apnewyork and http://www.wstm.com/Global/story.asp?S=3556425
16. Be sure any dry brush or fields are protected from accidental ignition by your fireworks displays.
East Beach. Firefighters in Galveston suspect fireworks could be to blame for a brush fire on East Beach that forced authorities to evacuate some campers Monday morning. The blaze broke out at about 10:30 p.m. Sunday on East Beach near the seawall. Between 100 and 120 acres went up in flames. 3.7.2005
17. Avoid these combinations of chemicals (there may be others but these are commonly encountered)
F = Friction
HY = Hygroscopic
I = Impact or Shock
SP = Spontaneous Combustion
U = Unstable (poor shelf life, slow decomposition or unpredictable)
a. Potassium Chlorate & Sulfur, Sulfides, or Sulfates - F, I, SP, U
b. Barium Chlorate & Sulfur, Sulfides, or Sulfates - F, I, SP, U
c. Potassium or Barium Chlorate & Ammonium Compounds - F, I, SP, U
d. Potassium or Barium Chlorate & Calcium Carbonate - F, I, U
e. Potassium or Barium Chlorate & Aluminum - F, I, U
f. Barium or Potassium Nitrate & Aluminum (when wet) - U, SP
g. Ammonium Perchlorate & most Nitrates - HY, U
h. Untreated (coated) Magnesium & any Oxidizer - SP, U
i. Barium Nitrate & Sodium Oxalate - HY, U
j. Barium or Potassium Chlorate & Sodium Oxalate - HY, U, F, I
The above is from Bill Ofca's safety tips (as seen on Skylighter.com) - in addition, you should avoid:
k.. Phosphorus of any kind with any pyro chemical.
l. Potassium permanganate (besides making dangerously sensitive compounds, it is messy and has a terrible shelf life)
m. Pool chemicals - they are unstable and are not good chlorine donors since they emit chlorine even when cool. Chlorine leaks in pyro compounds can result in chemical reactions leading to spontaneous ignitions and explosions.
n. Any explosives such as nitroglycerin, dynamite, ANFO, etc - these are meant to blow things up. They are not good for pyro uses.
18. Here are the rec.pyrotechnics FAQ safety tips
1. Mix only small batches, especially when trying something out for the first time. Some mixtures, particularly flash powder, will detonate rather than deflagrate (just burn) if enough is present to be self-confining. It doesn't take much to do this. Small amounts of unconfined pyrotechnic mixtures may damage your hands, eyes or face. Larger amounts can threaten arms, legs and life. The hazards are greatly reduced by using smaller amounts. Also be aware that a mixture using finer powders will generally behave MUCH more vigorously than the same mixture made with coarser ingredients. Many of these mixtures are MUCH more powerful than comparable amounts of black powder. Black powder is among the tamest of the pyrotechnician's mixtures.
2. Many of these mixtures are corrosive, many are very toxic, some will react strongly with nearly any metal to form much more unstable compounds. Of the toxics, nearly all organic nitrates have *very* potent vasodilator (heart and circulatory system) effects. Doses for heart patients are typically in the small milligram range. Some can be absorbed through the skin.
3. Keep your work area clean and tidy. Dispose of any spilled chemicals immediately. Don't leave open containers of chemicals on your table, since accidental spillage or mixing may occur. Use only clean equipment.
4. If chemicals need to be ground, grind them separately, never together. Thoroughly wash and clean equipment before grinding another chemical.
5. Mixing should be done outdoors, away from flammable structures, and where ventilation is good. Chemicals should not be mixed in metal or glass containers to prevent a shrapnel hazard. Wooden containers are best, to avoid static. Always use a wooden implement for stirring. Powdered mixtures may be mixed by placing them on a sheet of paper and rolling them across the sheet by lifting the sides and corners one at a time.
6. Don't store powdered mixtures, in general. If a mixture is to be stored, keep it away from heat sources, in cardboard or plastic containers. Keep all chemicals away from children or pets.
7. Be sure all stoppers or caps, especially screw tops, are thoroughly clean. Traces of mixture caught between the cap and the container can be ignited by friction from opening or closing the container.
8. Always wear a face shield, or at least shatterproof safety glasses. Also wear a dust mask when handling powdered chemicals. Particulate matter in the lungs can cause severe respiratory problems later in life. Wear gloves and a lab apron when handling chemicals. This rule is very important.
9. Make sure there are no ignition sources near where you are working. This includes heaters, motors and stove pilot lights. Above all, DON'T SMOKE!
10. Have a source of water READILY available. A fire extinguisher is best, a bucket of water is the bare minimum.
11. Never, under any circumstances, use metal or glass casings for fireworks. Metal and glass shrapnel can travel a long way, through body parts that you'd rather they didn't.
12. Always be thoroughly familiar with the chemicals you are using. Don't just rely on the information provided with the recipe. Look for extra information - the Merck Index is very good for this, especially regarding toxicity. It can also provide pointers to journal articles about the chemical.
13. Wash up carefully after handling chemicals. Don't forget to wash your ears and your nose.
14. If a device you build fails to work, leave it alone for half an hour, then bury it. Commercial stuff can be soaked in water for 30 minutes after being left for 30, then after 24 hours cautious disassembly can be a valid learning experience. People have found "duds" from shoots that took place over a year ago, having been exposed to rain etc, which STILL functioned when fitted with fresh fuse or disposed of in a bonfire. Even after a 30 minute waiting period (minimum), initial pickup should be with a long- handled shovel.
15. Treat all chemicals and mixtures with respect. Don't drop them or handle them roughly. Treat everything as if it may be friction- or shock-sensitive. Always expect an accident and prepare accordingly, even if all these safety precautions are observed. Several people on the net have gotten stitches, lost fingers, or been severely burned. Some of them were very scrupulous in their safety precautions and had many years' safe experience with pyrotechnics.
Examples on this page came from http://www.stop-fireworks.org/accidents_america.htm, the rec.pyrotechnics FAQ and Bill Ofca's Safety Tips (as seen on Skylighter)