When shopping for fireworks or displays you’ll come across a number of terms used to describe their classification. This article explains all!
Category 2, 3 and 4 Firework Classifications
Category 2 and Category 3 fireworks are those available from your fireworks retailer and which are on sale to the general public. A consumer firework will fall into one of those two categories depending on how much of a safety distance it requires.
Category 2 items which are also known as garden fireworks require the smallest distance which is 5 metres if the firework is classified to British Standards. However you may see an increasing number of fireworks in the coming years which are classified to new EU/EN standards and the safety distance in that case is 8 metres.
Category 3 items which are also known as display fireworks require the greatest distance which is 25 metres for fireworks classified to British Standards. Again, it is likely in coming years you will see a number of fireworks classified to the new EU/EN standards and although the firework will still be Category 3 it may have a different safety distance on the label, for example 15 metres.
A firework usually gets its category as a result of its gunpowder content, weight, size and how far it ejects debris. All fireworks on sale to the public have to be extensively tested and classified as either Category 2 or 3. These classifications also impose a noise limit and ensure the firework has a safety fuse and clear instructions on the label.
In coming years you will start to see fireworks which carry the CE marking. This is because new legislation came into force in 2010 for all new fireworks imported after that date. However, fireworks imported already are exempt from the new laws and can be sold until 2017. So, don’t be surprised if your fireworks have a mix of old and new labels.
Category 4 fireworks are for professional use only. These can include aerial shells and other items banned for sale to the public. Many category 4 fireworks are supplied without a fuse and are extremely dangerous to the untrained.
In case you are wondering, Category 1 refers to fireworks which pose a minimal hazard and this classification is usually given to indoor fireworks.
1.3G, 1.4G, HT3 and HT 4 Firework Classifications
Now this is where it starts to get more complex! For the purposes of transport and packaging, all fireworks are given a UN classification number, depending on their potential hazard. For consumer fireworks this will be 1.3G or 1.4G and that will be shown on the side of the firework’s original box as an orange diamond with the UN number inside
For the purposes of storage, legislation called MSER determines the amount of fireworks which can be stored together and under what conditions. MSER defines fireworks as a Hazard Type depending on the hazard they pose. Consumer fireworks typically fall under Hazard Type 4 (HT4) or Hazard Type 3 (HT3).
Now if you are asking yourself “Do I need to worry about this?” the answer is usually no. If you are buying fireworks from a non-specialist (such a supermarket) on or immediately before Guy Fawkes then hazard type and UN classification would not have any relevance. This is the case for example if you are buying selection boxes, sparklers and so on. Or, if you are buying fireworks and letting them off within a couple of days.
However if you are buying a lot of fireworks and intend keeping them at home, or if you are keeping fireworks at home for a long time, these classifications do have some importance. You may also have noticed some retailers making a fuss of the fact their fireworks are “old spec” 1.3G fireworks as a selling point. So let’s look into this in more detail.
1.3G and 1.4G is a hazard classification that relates only to transport and packaging. Fireworks classed as 1.3G are considered more hazardous than 1.4G because they may contain certain chemicals or larger amounts of flashpowder (a type of gunpowder that is much more powerful than the usual “blackpowder”).
Within the trade, firework companies are strictly limited to how many fireworks they can store in one place and the amount is determined by their classification under the Explosive Regulations 2014 (the current fireworks regulations which replaced MSER) which grade fireworks as Hazard Type 4 or Hazard Type 3. In most cases it is safe to assume that 1.4G fireworks are Hazard Type 4 and 1.3G fireworks are Hazard Type 3 although any changes to the packaging in storage may affect this. Less HT3 fireworks can be stored than HT4 fireworks in a given store or shop.
The classification of 1.3G or 1.4G also affects transport of fireworks and has a direct bearing on mail order items – most couriers will only ship 1.4G fireworks.
For the public, laws exist which state how many fireworks you can keep at home and how long for without requiring registration or a licence. As an example, up to 50kg NEC of HT4 fireworks can be stored for up to 21 days, but for HT3 fireworks the time limit is just five days for up to 100kg. NEC means net explosive content and is the amount of actual explosives inside a firework, not to be confused with the firework’s overall weight including tubes and packaging.
It used to be the case that all consumer fireworks were only 1.4G, and all professional fireworks were either 1.4G, 1.3G or the even more hazardous 1.1G.
However huge changes have been made recently with the way consumer fireworks are classified. Simplifying these changes greatly for the purposes of this article, consumer fireworks with more than a certain amount of flashpowder in them were reclassified from 1.4G to the more hazardous 1.3G.
1.3G fireworks are quite often referred to as old stock which is a reference to fireworks made before these new regulations. For a while there was a marked difference in power and performance between the “old” fireworks (now 1.3G) and the “new” fireworks with reduced flashpowder (1.4G). This is not so much the case today for two key reasons. Firstly the firework factories in China are now up to speed with the new regulations and are able to extract almost as much perceived power from fully 1.4G compliant fireworks as they did from the old 1.3G fireworks. Secondly – and as a further complication – because 1.3G is just a hazard classification, the fireworks trade has invented some ingenious ways to “make” 1.3G fireworks less hazardous – making them 1.4G – by wrapping them in protective wire mesh cases for example. This type of packaging is often referred to as pyromesh.
It is inevitable that the fireworks buying public want the most powerful fireworks for the money, so a 1.3G classification is often seen as indicative of greater power or performance. Please bear in mind however that 1.3G fireworks bring a number of restrictions with them, namely the smaller amount of time you can legally keep them at home and the fact they cannot be delivered by normal couriers. Thankfully, most firework ranges now produce excellent 1.4G fireworks which are every bit as good as the old 1.3G ones, so in effect normality has been restored to consumer fireworks!
In summary, consumer fireworks can be classified as:
- Category 2 or Category 3 (also known as garden or display fireworks)
- 1.3G or 1.4G (for transport and packaging)
- HT3 or HT4 (for storage)
- Your fireworks retailer will be able to advise you on the category and classification of your fireworks and which ones are most suitable for your size of garden or type of display
- Remember, it is no longer the case that 1.4G fireworks are less effective than 1.3G (or “old stock”) due to improvements in manufacture and packaging
Professional fireworks cover everything else:
- Fireworks which do not conform to Category 2 or 3 and are known as Category 4 fireworks
- Can be 1.4G, 1.3G or 1.1G
- Fireworks which are banned from sale to the public such as aerial shells or Chinese crackers
- Fireworks which do not have safety fuses (in readiness for electrical ignition)
Further information about the classifications of fireworks
Don’t worry too much about needing to know all about these classifications when you are shopping for consumer fireworks. You only really need to know how much space you have in your venue since this will dictate whether Category 2 (5m or 8m distance) or Category 3 (25m) applies. The 1.3G or 1.4G classification comes into play mainly if you intend buying a lot of fireworks or keeping them for a long time, and your retailer will advise.
If you’re going to use a professional team to provide your fireworks display then you don’t need to worry about any of this of course.
If you are working through the beginner’s “Start here!” guide you can return to it here. Or, pick a new help topic from the menus at the top of the page.
When you are ready to buy fireworks, whether it is consumer fireworks or a professional display, have a look at UKFR’s Buying Fireworks guide for advice and the Buy Fireworks page for a listing of fireworks suppliers. Always give these companies priority with your fireworks cash (find out why).
If you want to ask for help or have any other questions, try the UKFR Fireworks Forum. Beginners are warmly welcomed and the firework community here is standing by to help you.