Remember, remember, eye safety in November

Safety advice abounds as Guy Fawkes Night approaches, but risks to eye health continue to lurk closer to home too

Pexels/Ayla Fazioli

As the days grow shorter and the weather becomes increasingly woollens-worthy, we move into prime season for bonfires and fireworks, with Diwali celebrations taking place this week (2 – 6 November) and Guy Fawkes Night on 5 November.

Ahead of the celebrations, health organisations and accident prevention charities have been urging the public to take measures to ensure their safety when using fireworks.

Data from NHS Digital reveals that in 2020/21 there were more than 100 hospital admissions for people injured by fireworks.

Eye Health UK, the organisation behind National Eye Health Week, has issued advice to help the public keep safe.

“Every year around 300 people suffer serious eye injuries as a result of accidents caused by fireworks,” the organisation explained, citing figures that indicate three quarters (73%) of serious ocular traumas are sustained by adults, and 45% occur at private parties.

David Cartwright, chairman of the charity, said: “Eye damage caused by fireworks is so often avoidable and can lead to permanently reduced vision or even blindness, so this year, the Trust is urging people to take extra care of their eyes and follow the SPARKLER safety code.”

Through social media messages, Moorfields Eye Hospital is reminding the public to keep safe around fireworks. Badrul Hussain, consultant ophthalmic surgeon at Moorfields told OT: “We usually see a handful of patients around Bonfire Night with minor, and sometimes more significant, injuries (severe periocular burns, chemical injuries and potentially blinding globe ruptures).”

He shared anecdotally that the pandemic “may have seen fewer people venturing out to watch fireworks last year,” but noted: “There is always the danger that people may put themselves at risk with homemade ‘shows.’”

Sharing the message that he would pass on to the public this Guy Fawkes Night, Hussain said: “fireworks are not toys – they have the potential to cause life-changing injuries.” He added that he would remind the public to follow safety messages given when purchasing fireworks – particularly around never returning to a lit firework that hasn’t gone off – and also encouraged the use of eye protection, “protective goggles ideally or safety spectacles at a minimum, even with sparklers.”

Experts are encouraging the public to attend professionally-organised displays, but with several cancelled for a second year, it is anticipated that many families will plan to purchase their own fireworks.

As a result, accident-prevention charities are warning families of the importance of sourcing fireworks that meet safety standards and are appropriate for home-use.

Katrina Phillips, chief executive of the Child Accident Prevention Trust, cautioned: “Unfortunately, it’s really easy to buy fireworks that aren’t suited to a family garden,” while The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has advised: “make sure you are buying any fireworks only from reputable retailers.”

The British Fireworks Association (which has a rather adorable safety video featuring the firework dragons ‘Ooh’ and ‘Aah’) has put together advice for consumers on ensuring products are safe and legal. 

But while attention turns to firework safety, risks to eye health and the dangers of unregulated suppliers continue to lurk even closer to home – and just a click away.

In October, the AOP launched its new national campaign, tackling illegal supply in the UK and highlighting the risks of buying contact lenses online.

A survey of over 1000 AOP optometrist members found that 56% said they had seen as many as nine patients in a month who had experienced problems as a result of contact lenses purchased online, while over half reported seeing evidence that the law is being broken by suppliers.

Despite this, 45% of the public were unaware that some online suppliers are unregulated and do not comply with UK safety regulations.

The AOP is calling on the Government to close a loophole that enables online suppliers to operate outside UK safety laws, and has suggested suppliers carry an approved kitemark to show consumers they are looking at a trustworthy product.

Optical health and safety might not be at the forefront of people’s minds when an advert pops up on social media, or when heading out to watch fireworks, but the profession is working to put eye safety in the spotlight this winter.