Safely setting off fireworks on 1 August

Swiss National Day has been celebrated on 1 August since 1891 following the rediscovery of the Federal Charter, and has been a nationwide public holiday since 1994. At BBQs or while listening to celebrity speeches, many people celebrate the founding of the Swiss Confederacy with lanterns, national flags and fireworks. We explain what you need to consider from a safety perspective when setting off fireworks in a private setting, to avoid your festivities ending with a visit to A&E.

According to SUVA data, more than 100 people are so badly injured by fireworks on 1 August every year that they have to seek medical attention. And this doesn’t include accidents involving children and teenagers. Most of these incidents could be prevented because they’re usually the result of careless or reckless behaviour. It’s therefore essential to take a few precautions, in order to fully enjoy the fun.

Safely setting off fireworks on 1 August
Fireworks near Basler Münster (Cathedral) on 1 August

How are fireworks classified in Switzerland?

  • Category F1 - miniature fireworks (pyrotechnic items)
    Firecrackers in this category are intended to be used in confined spaces (including residential buildings) and may only be purchased by those over the age of 12. This category includes indoor fireworks, Gold and Silver Rain and sparklers, for example.
  • Category F2 - small fireworks (those with low hazardous potential)
    You can enjoy these bangers in defined outdoor areas. They may only be supplied to those over the age of 16, as this type of firework includes Roman candles, Catherine wheels, Bengal torches and fountains, for example.
  • Category F3 - medium-sized fireworks (those that present a medium hazard)
    This type of Screaming Banshee may be used in wide open outdoor spaces. Furthermore, they may only be sold to those over the age of 18. Adults require neither training nor approval to detonate large rockets, volcano fountains, Thunder Hawks or battery fireworks, for example.
  • Category F4 - large fireworks (those that pose a major hazard)
    This category of firework may only be purchased and used by professionals who hold firing and acquisition permits that demonstrate their expertise. They’re therefore reserved for commercial use. This category primarily includes barrage and display fireworks, as well as cylinder and spherical bombs.
Safely setting off fireworks on 1 August
What could be better than a social gathering on National Day?

Safety first: our tips for the safe handling of pyrotechnics

1 August public celebrations in communities and cities usually pose an extremely low safety risk, as local fire brigade crews and possibly Samaritan Association ambulance crews, as well as huge barriers, prevent a worst-case scenario and can quickly administer first aid in extreme cases. In private settings, however, trained personnel aren’t always on hand, which is why it’s all the more important to follow this code of conduct:

  • At point of sale, you should ask the vendor for a detailed explanation of how to handle individual fireworks and read the instructions before setting them off, to ensure that you do so correctly.
  • Always store fireworks in a cool, dry place. Never carry firecrackers and pyrotechnics in your trouser pocket. They can easily ignite due to friction, causing serious injury.
  • You should always have enough water on hand to be able to extinguish fireworks in an emergency or promptly treat any burns. Other suppressants, such as fire extinguishers or fire blankets, should also be within reach.
  • Depending on the size of your fireworks, you must maintain a safety distance of 50 to 200 metres from buildings, fields or woodland. It’s forbidden to light pyrotechnics in the immediate vicinity of other people. And never launch rockets from a balcony or window.
  • Enforce a strict no-smoking policy near fireworks.
  • On 1 August, close all doors, windows and skylights to protect against stray, uncontrolled bangers.
  • Fireworks should be kept away from small children, just like lighters and matches. Explain to kids how to handle fireworks in a way that is appropriate for their age and never leave them alone with pyrotechnics.
  • If a firecracker fails to ignite, wait at least ten minutes before approaching it and immediately douse with water. After a while, you can dispose of the firework, to prevent your neighbours’ children, for example, from hitting on the idea of relighting it, because any attempt to do so is extremely dangerous.
  • Rockets are best launched from a firmly positioned bottle or pipe that cannot topple over. Rocket launchers should never be inserted directly into the ground.
  • Never light fireworks while holding them in your hands. If they go off prematurely, this will result in severe burns.
  • Never make your own pyrotechnics or tinker with those you’ve already bought. In addition, fireworks should never be opened, as they contain chemical substances that are extremely sensitive to friction, impact and heat and can therefore result in dangerous reactions and explosions.
  • Intoxicated people should never ever set off fireworks, as even small amounts of alcohol in the blood can impair their judgement and make them reckless.
  • Cantons issue fire bans in the event of severe drought or for other important reasons. Before using fireworks, be sure to check whether the local authorities permit these.
    This Swiss-wide government overview is a useful guide.

NB: setting off noisy fireworks is only permitted on Swiss National Day and that same evening, as well as on New Year’s Eve. On all other occasions, official approval is required for the use of fireworks.