The world of professional pyrotechnics demonstration has really multiplied exponentially in the last few decades after years of being a cottage industry. Before the 1970s and 1980s, fireworks as a whole (both consumer and civic) were a much less egalitarian item. According to http://www.alphavet.co.uk/fireworks.htm, first-world countries like imposed tight restrictions on the product that made it hard for the average person to attain them. Simultaneously, it appears that townships and local organizations were less inclined to spend money on displays for the whole community; instead, they were more likely to invite a certain group of people to their pyrotechnic demonstrations.
As time marched on through the eras of Richard Nixon, Margaret Thatcher, and Roman Herzog, pyrotechnic trade groups began to spring up and gain steam, leading to a more organized and professional industry. Two major associations soon became the PR face of pyrotechnicians everywhere. In America, where combined consumer and professional fireworks sales now approaches $800 million, the American Pyrotechnic Association (APA) sets a mission of safety awareness and regulation enforcer education in order to protect the interests of professional demonstrators and consumers alike. Internationally, the Pyrotechnics Guild International mirrors these goals while serving to unite enthusiasts in every corner of the globe.
During this pre-9/11 period, municipalities both big and small began to see more and more fireworks displays at events ranging from sporting matches to music concerts to political conventions. While it is hard to pinpoint the exact number of shows done internationally each year during this time, a look at the current numbers claimed by two of the industries biggest players, Zambelli Fireworks (with a reputed 3500 yearly displays) and Pyro Spectacular (with 4500), leads me to believe this figure has been in the 10s of thousands for some time now. Considering each show brings enjoyment to thousands of people at a clip, it is hard to imagine that the professional pyrotechnic industry could have ever fallen on hard times.
Unfortunately, the landscape of the planet has changed within the last five years with the onset of terrorist activity. As a result, the business of fireworks has become significantly tougher to manage thanks to new legislation in almost every country geared on protecting the public. Regulations and codes continue to hit the books no matter where you look, leading to incremental costs for professional pyrotechnicians that arrive in a variety of ways. Whether it is a tangible cost like new permit and penalty fees, or a hidden cost like additional man-hours required to meet the letter of the law, fireworks displayers must absorb them into their business model. As pointed out by the APA, other costs that directly affect the bottom line include higher insurance premiums and higher transportation fees.
While the list of debilitating government regulation is seemingly endless, I want to highlight a few specific cases that illustrate the magnitude of the situation.
In the , for example, professional pyrotechnic demonstrators have seen various laws passed that have complicated their daily lives. To begin with, there are five federal governmental divisions that impose requirements on trade practice (OSHA, ATF, DOT, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the NationalLicensingCenter, which is a special branch of the ATF). Strict adherence to codes such as OSHA Standard 1910, ATF Procedure 5400.7, and DOT Title 49 are mandatory and have been for many years. Since 2001, new laws have hit the books as well. Whether it is a national law like the Safe Explosives Act (which has led to an entirely new round of permit requirements) or a state-wide measure like Pennsylvania’s Title 25 amendment (which requires extra security and inspection at public fireworks displays), pyrotechnicians are forced to now work harder to put on the same caliber of show. In extreme cases, such as the railways months-long boycott of explosives goods a few years ago (stemming from unclear government direction on the Safe Explosives Act), government regulation has the potential to grind the industry to a halt.
In , professional pyrotechnic display artists must contend with two pieces of legislation that police their industry (which in fairness have been in existence since before 9/11). The Explosives Act is basically the Bible of fireworks code for the country, monitored by the Explosives Regulatory Division. One particular mandate of the code that stands out is a requirement for certain standards on fireworks manufactured in . A demonstration company like Fireworks F/X is thereby limited in the type of product it can use. Meanwhile, the Aeronautics Act is a measure that includes specific instructions regarding the use of fireworks in the nighttime sky.
Two other countries provide examples of small but, nonetheless, bothersome legislation that fireworks companies can face. In , local council officials recently enacted a policy against the use of fireworks in their district except on very special occasions. The reason? Animals and the elderly were frightened by the unexpected noise created at a private party. Professionals in Hong Kong have also seen government interfere in the last few years. Officials there have begun to meddle into the use of explosives and fireworks on the sets of motion pictures there. Attempts at a more formalized licensing policy have become increasingly frequent as a result.
Pressure from NGOs is not a major issue for professional fireworks demonstrators, although a brief moment should be paid to what are seen as the primary factors at play. There are two main arguments against fireworks: public safety and child labor. In reality, neither of these arguments does nor should come down directly on the head of professional pyrotechnicians.
The public safety concern is a valid one, but has been addressed by event planners since the beginning of the public demonstrations. Currently, there is a rule of thumb used to minimize the risk of injury: the crowd must be 70 feet away from the point of fire for each inch in diameter of the largest firework shell [http://www.classafireworks.com/eval.htm]. When it comes right down to it, public safety watchdogs are really focused on recreational fireworks usage, where almost the entire problem appears. Yet, even here the APA’s consumer education program has a strong defense. According to the organization, fireworks-related injuries have decreased by 75% in the last fifteen years.
Child labor has an even less direct tie to professional pyrotechnics. While the idea of small children in poor countries working with explosive material is ghastly, the fact is that most of the major demonstration companies manufacture their own equipment. Of course, there might be a few violators out there, but it would be my guess that anyone who wants to keep a reputable label in the industry would shy away from buying from these sources. Again, it seems like the problem arises from consumer-oriented fireworks sales. While I do not have any hard data to support this theory, it would stand to reason that this would be true. Therefore, organizations such as ILO and ILAB that fight to end dangerous child labor practices do not really have a case against the professional pyrotechnic industry.
On the bright side, because there is no true substitute for a fireworks demonstration, these companies can pass the incremental regulatory costs onto the municipality. However, the increased cost realistically still comes back to haunt the industry by possibly outpricing certain event organizers who might have desired their services.