Doctors warn of home-made 'fireworks' danger

Firework debris removed from eye
Image caption Firework debris removed in emergency surgery from girl's eye on fireworks night last year

Eye doctors are warning about bird-scaring explosives, called bangers, being modified and used as fireworks.

Last year these caused five serious eye injuries when thrown into a crowd at a Bonfire Night celebration in Sussex.

The agricultural products are made to scare off wildlife - but doctors are worried that the trend to use them in this way could spread.

They wrote about their concerns in a letter to the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

The bangers - also known as rookies and deer scarers - have a slow-burning rope fuse that ignites several explosives along the rope. When cut down, the fuse and explosive can be lit and thrown. They are sold to be used to scare birds and deer away from crops.

War-zone injuries

Edward Pringle, retinal fellow at Sussex Eye Hospital and one of the letter's authors, said: "These banger fireworks are easy to throw into a crowd, people look at them and debris shoots into the eye. It's like a hand grenade going off - a flash in front of the eye, and then the feeling of a blunt injury.

"Doctors normally see these types of injuries in a war zone. We were seeing them in a small market town - those throwing them and the people turning up to public events don't realise how dangerous they can be."

Eight patients attended the Sussex Eye Hospital on the evening of 5 November 2011 after taking part in the Lewes bonfire event attended by over 60,000 people - two were blinded and three now have the risk of life-long glaucoma.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa) said: "It is worrying that some people feel it is appropriate to throw very dangerous agricultural products around crowds of people.

"Deer scarers, and indeed real fireworks, are not toys. They are explosives and the injuries they can cause can be devastating, as this story sadly shows.

"Going to a public fireworks display remains the safest option, but clearly there is still work to be done to get the message across that throwing fireworks and other explosives is dangerous and unlawful."

The BMJ letter calls for stricter firework controls, with the authors saying: "Numbers of blinding injuries have fallen in countries with legislation that controls the use and distribution of fireworks.

"The UK has legislation to limit distribution, but deer scarers are exempt because they are not actual fireworks."

With just over half of firework injuries occurring at public events, they also ask for better safety restrictions in place at managed displays, suggesting organisers "actively engage their audience in the safer use of fireworks and encourage eye protection".

On average eight eye injuries are recorded across the whole of the UK on Guy Fawkes day each year, data from the British Ophthalmic Surveillance Unit shows.

Of the people that are injured in the eye from a firework - half will need surgery, half will become blind and one in six will need their eye removed. About a third of firework eye injury patients are under 18.

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