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Special Effects and Pyrotechnics
Special Effects and Pyrotechnics


(Revised 20 November 2017)

Explosions, flashes, flames, fireworks or other pyrotechnic driven effects used in the entertainment industry are referred to as theatrical special effects, special effects, or proximate pyrotechnics. Proximate refers to the pyrotechnic device’s location relative to an audience. Special training and licensing must be obtained from local authorities to legally prepare and use proximate pyrotechnics.

Special Effects may also include effects such as smoke or haze generated by heating proprietary fluids in a dedicated machine. Dry-ice (frozen CO2) and liquid CO2 can also be used for smoke effects.

Display pyrotechnics, also known as commercial fireworks, are pyrotechnic devices intended for use outdoors, where the audience can be further away, and smoke and fallout is less of a concern. Display pyrotechnics are a highly specialised craft that fall outside the scope of this chapter.

14.1 Referenced documents:

Australian Explosives Code

Australian Standard AS 2187.3:2016 – Explosives – Storage, transport and use – Pyrotechnics – Shopgoods fireworks – Design, performance and testing.

Work Health and Safety Act 2011

  • Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (VIC)
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 (WA)

Queensland Code of Practice – Close proximity fireworks – March 2017

Code of Practice Western Australian theatrical fireworks

NSW – NSW Explosives Act 2003 & NSW Explosives Regulation 2013

ACT – Dangerous Substances Act 2004 and Dangerous Substances (Explosives) Regulations 2004

Victoria – Dangerous Goods (Explosives) Regulations 2011

Tasmania Explosives Regulations 2012 and Explosives Act 2012

SA – Dangerous Goods (Explosives) Regulations 2011 and Explosives (Fireworks) Regulations 2001

WA – Dangerous Goods Safety Act 2004 and Dangerous Goods (Explosives) Regulations 2007

NT – Dangerous Goods Act 2012 and Dangerous Goods Regulations 2014

QLD – Explosives Act 1999 and Explosives Regulations 2003

For detailed break-down, see table at the end of the Chapter.

14.2 Definitions

14.2.1 Close Proximity Fireworks

Pyrotechnic articles assigned to compatibility group G that are specifically designed for use in close proximity to performers, audiences and structures; typically used indoors (e.g. stage or studio for theatre, concert, film and television productions) but may also be used outdoors; products include comets, gerbs, fountains, flash pots, fireballs, mines, flame and smoke effects involving pyrotechnics.

They are fired electrically and are typically very dependable, producing consistent results or effects. They are designed for use at minimal distance from audience and performers.

Risks vary according to where they are used, so the guidelines may not be relevant to all situations. However, all parties should consider this information when assessing and ensuring the safe use of these fireworks.

14.2.2 Parties involved

14.2.2.a Display host

A person who employs or otherwise engages a fireworks contractor to organise the fireworks display for them

14.2.2.b Fireworks contractor

A person (natural person or company) licensed to buy fireworks and engage with display hosts to conduct fireworks displays (including close proximity displays if appropriately endorsed)

14.2.2.c Fireworks operator

A person licensed to conduct fireworks displays (including close proximity displays if appropriately endorsed) in accordance with the safety management system of the fireworks contractor for whom they work

14.2.3 Malfunction

The failure of an explosives article or explosive to function in an expected or satisfactory manner

14.2.4 Misfire

A fireworks product or part of a fireworks product that has failed to explode or ignite

14.2.5 Transport requirements

The Australian code for the transport of explosives by road and rail: third edition (Australian explosives code)

applies to the transport of close proximity fireworks in any quantity.

Holders of a fireworks contractor or fireworks operator licence, endorsed for close proximity displays, are exempt from the requirement to hold a licence to transport explosives when transporting quantities of risk categories 1 and 2 (as per the Australian explosives code) for the purpose of conducting close proximity displays.

14.2.6 Atmospheric Effects

Atmospheric effects — fog, haze, and smoke — are commonly used in the theatre. Various different mechanisms are currently used to achieve them. This type of effect generally does not require an operator permit or licence. These effects can however trigger smoke detectors or deplete the amount of oxygen.

14.2.6.a Glycol / Glycerol

The most common form of theatrical smoke is made by using a fog machine to heat a liquid (fog juice). The liquid contains an oil that when heated to a sufficient point produces smoke. The fluid is pumped by the machine into a temperature controlled heat exchanger that vaporizes the fluid into thick clouds of fog, projecting it out through a nozzle located at the front of the machine.

The exact type of effect varies from a haze to an intense smoke depending on the machine used and the fluid used. Fog machine fluids are usually a mixture of propylene glycol, tri-ethylene glycol, and water.

14.2.6.b CO2 Effects

When liquid CO2 is released into the air, typically through an electric solenoid valve to control timing and duration, the carbon dioxide liquid expands to a vapour and condenses the moisture in the air, creating large billowing plumes. When the solenoid valve is closed, the CO2 vapor rapidly disperses in the air, ending the effect nearly instantaneously. This effect can be used for a variety of applications, including simulating geysers of steam, in place of pyrotechnics, or to create an instant opaque wall for a reveal or disappearance during magic acts.

14.2.6.c Combined effects

Liquid carbon dioxide (CO2), stored in compressed cylinders, is used in conjunction with theatrical fog machines to produce “low lying” fog effects. When liquid CO2 is used to chill theatrical fog, the result is a thick fog that stays within a few feet of the ground. As the fog warms, or is agitated, it rises and dissipates. Effect duration is determined by the heating cycle of the theatrical fog machine and consumption rate of liquid CO2.

14.3 Licensing

Each state and territory jurisdiction has its own regulatory system governing explosives. Given the hazardous nature of the industry, each regulatory system can be extensive with the aim of controlling access to explosives. Many jurisdictions have explosive-specific acts and regulations, although Victoria, Western Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory address explosives in their dangerous goods legislation. Administrative oversight of explosives regulation lies primarily with work health and safety regulators, with the exception of Western Australia and Queensland where this responsibility lies within their mining portfolios.

14.3.1 Links

All links were checked on 1 October 2017. Please notify AESRG if you notice changes or broken links.









14.4 Planning

14.4.1 Risk management

The risks associated with the use of close proximity fireworks will vary depending on the product selection and the environment in which they are used. A risk assessment must be undertaken to ensure that any display will be conducted at an acceptable level of risk, taking into account all the features and equipment at the venue. The matters highlighted for consideration below should be assessed for risk and suitable procedures developed and incorporated in the fireworks contractor safety management system:

  • manufacturer’s recommendations on setting up and using the fireworks
  • firing points and clearance distances of the fireworks to the audience, performers, stage hands, licensed operator and licensed operator’s assistants
  • malfunctioning fireworks, human error and audience behaviour
  • effective ventilation to manage expected heat, smoke and toxic gases produced by the fireworks
  • risk of an uncontrolled fire leading to the rapid generation of heat, toxic gases and smoke
  • risk of trapping people indoors during a fire due to mobbing and crushing at exits, increasing the risk of suffocation from toxic gases and smoke
  • acceptable levels of exposure to hazards such as smoke, toxic gases and noise under health and safety guidelines
  • close proximity fireworks should be appropriately secured at all times in accordance with the procedures and security plan.
  • risk of accidentally triggering indoor smoke alarms and heat-activated sprinkler systems unnecessarily
  • interaction of fireworks with other special effects (e.g. confetti or streamers)
  • risk of fire to the set including scenery, rigging, walls, ceilings, curtains, and costumes worn by performers
  • use of synthetic slings in rigging above and near the area the close proximity fireworks are used

14.4.2 Emergency planning

The display host and the licensed fireworks contractor must have a documented emergency plan in place prior to the display. The emergency plan should include details of:

  • the objectives of the plan, including the definition of an emergency
  • the roles, responsibilities and functions of all key stakeholders (including display host, licensed fireworks contractor, licensed fireworks operator, fireworks operator’s assistants, performers, first aid and firefighting duties)
  • hazards and types of emergencies that may arise from those hazards (e.g. audience panic resulting from an uncontrolled fire)
  • plans for evacuation, firefighting and off-site emergency responders
  • emergency procedures for the types of emergencies that may arise
  • emergency equipment identified in emergency procedures
  • training and education of staff and other stakeholders regarding the emergency plan and emergency procedures
  • activation of the emergency plan and termination of the emergency
  • reporting incidents to the Regulator in accordance to local legislation requirements..

14.4.3 Clearance to the audience

The clearance distance imposed for a close proximity display must be in accordance with the material data sheet/technical data sheet for the products utilised, but must never be less than 2 m. The following factors must be considered when selecting products and determining clearance distances:

  • clearance to the audience may have to be increased beyond 2 m to meet manufacturer’s instructions or exceed twice the fallout radius, whichever is greater
  • location of potential ignition sources (such as smokers at outdoor venues)
  • effects of forced ventilation or wind
  • effects of height and angled fireworks
  • health and safety considerations for noise, smoke and gases.

The fireworks operator should determine whether the exposure of people to hazards (including smoke, toxic gases, irritants and noise), as well as the duration of the exposure to these hazards, is at acceptable levels for exposure under health and safety exposure standards for the actual conditions (including the amount of ventilation) that will exist during the display.

14.4.4 Initiation equipment

Direct use of battery or mains power is not permitted. Electrical firing units must be commercially manufactured and intrinsically safe. They must include a locking mechanism that can render the exploder inoperable, and be designed so that a two-step manual action is required for firing.

Electrical firing units with built-in circuit testers must be designed to limit the test current to 50 mA or 20 per cent of the no-fire current of the electric match used, whichever is smaller.

Multimeters, such as volt-ohm meters, must not be used for testing electric matches unless the maximum current delivery potential has been measured and found to meet these requirements. Multimeters can have enough test current to accidentally fire an exploder and set-off the pyrotechnical effect.

14.5 Atmospheric effects

Using theatrical smoke machines or hazers are likely to trigger the venue smoke alarms and cause a false alarm. Before powering up any smoke machine or hazer, make sure that smoke detection has been isolated in accordance with venue policies. Never temper with smoke detection systems.

Most theatrical smoke is non-toxic and non-irritant, however it should still be used with care. Don’t attempt to release smoke before tine machine has heated up – this can result in slippery oil being released onto the floor. Smoke machines have parts that get very hot when in use, wait for them to cool down before putting them away, and beware of the nozzle. Do not leave a smoke machine switched on for long periods unattended and never cover the smoke machine with anything that could impede ventilation.

Avoid firing smoke directly at people, fabrics or equipment. The operator should always have a clear view of the area around the smoke machine.

14.5.1 CO2

Carbon dioxide (CO2), is a colourless, odourless, non-flammable gas at room temperature. Carbon dioxide can exist as a liquid or solid depending on the temperature and pressure. Its solid form is called dry ice.

Carbon dioxide is used in fire extinguishers, as a coolant in the form of dry ice, and to produce artificial fog that is sometimes used in theatre productions.

Carbon dioxide naturally makes up a very small part of the earth’s atmosphere. The typically concentration of carbon dioxide in occupied buildings is between 300 ppm to 400 ppm or 0.03% to 0.04%. A concentration of more than 800 ppm in indoor air indicates inadequate fresh air supply. People can also be exposed to carbon dioxide by handling or breathing vapor from dry ice. Carbon dioxide is heavier than air and tends to accumulate near the ground surface.

14.5.1.a How harmful is exposure to carbon dioxide?

Exposure to gaseous carbon dioxide at low concentrations appears to have little harmful effects.

Exposure to carbon dioxide at high concentrations can affect the lungs, skin, and cardiovascular systems.

Exposure to 2 to 3% (20,000 – 30,000 ppm) carbon dioxide in air may cause shortness of breath on exertion.

Exposure to 3 to 5% (30,000 – 50,000 ppm) carbon dioxide in air may cause rapid breathing and headache.

Exposure to 5% (50,000 ppm) carbon dioxide in air may cause heavy breathing, sweating, and a fast pulse.

Exposure to 7.5% (75,000 ppm) carbon dioxide in air may cause headaches, sweating, dizziness, shortness of breath, drowsiness, ringing in the ears, muscular weakness, and loss of mental abilities.

Exposure to 10% (100,000 ppm) carbon dioxide in air may cause respiratory distress and loss of consciousness possible after 10 to 15 minutes.

Exposure to 15% (150,000 ppm) carbon dioxide in air may be lethal.

Exposures above this level are not tolerable. Exposure to 25+% (250,000+ ppm) carbon dioxide in air will cause convulsions. Rapid loss of consciousness will occur after a few breaths. Death will occur if this level is maintained.

Direct contact of skin to frozen carbon dioxide (dry ice) may cause frostbite.


Review of pyrotechnics legislation Australia

Mutual recognition Y

-By application a person who holds a recognised interstate licence is deemed to hold a local licence equivalent to the recognised licence [s4(1). -Mutual Recognition (Automatic Licensed Occupations Recognition) Act].


-Manufacture licences recognised [r36(3)(b)].

-Vehicle licences for transporting explosives recognised [r108].

-Driver’s licences from interstate recognised as evidence of competency [r180].

-Interstate security checks recognised [r201(3)].


-Fireworks Contractor Licence recognises licences and experience from interstate [r36].

Shotfirers and pyrotechnicians recognised under the mutual recognition scheme – Mutual Recognition (Queensland) Act 1992


-Recognise security clearances (including as licences as proxy for security clearance) for first 3 months residing in WA [r16(3)].

-Automatic mutual recognition of interstate transport licences [r97(4)].

Use/handle – pyrotechnician Y

-Pyrotechnician licence [r29].


-Pyrotechnician licence [r143].


-Fireworks operator licence [r32].



-Fireworks operator licence [r138(2)].


Fireworks Use/handle – general public Y

-Single use licence [r30] available for experienced and competent applicants.

Single use competency requirements are outlined in r39(2).

Application requirements are outlined in r33.

N Limited

-Specifically prohibited [r132] unless unrestricted fireworks are used in a display [r129(2)].


-A person using a firework which is not an authorised explosive must hold a test permit authorising the person to use it [r26, r27 and r137].


Incidents – death, injury, property damage


-Notify serious incidents (uncontrolled explosion, fire, death, serious injury, substantial damage to property) [r103].

-Also WHS requirement to notify regulator of deaths, injury or dangerous incident [s38 WHS Act].


-Notify injury, property damage and dangerous incidents [r25].

-Also WHS requirement to notify regulator of deaths, injury or dangerous incident [s38 OHS Act].


-Notify explosives incident and any loss of life, personal injury or property damage caused by the incident.

-Manager of government magazines to notify:

• any incidents [r100]

• dangerous situations or incidents when stored [r112(1)(b)] or in transport [r119(1)(b)] -Notice of fireworks incident [r138]

-Also WHS requirement to notify regulator of deaths, injury or dangerous incident [s38 WHS Act].



-Reportable situation – incident involving explosive [r44(2)(a)].

-Requirement to notify authorities of dangerous situation [r109].

-Requirement to notify regulator of dangerous situation [r109(5)].

-Requirement to provide a report to regulator re dangerous situation and preventing its reoccurrence [r109(6-7)] .

-Also WHS requirement to notify regulator of deaths, injury or dangerous incident [s23I-K WHS Act].

Safety reports Y

-Safety management plans may be required to be lodged with regulator [r36].


-Safety and health census provided to regulator quarterly [r146C].


-Is provision that plans may be required (safety plans, emergency management plans and security plans) [Sch 10].

Explosive malfunction Y

Serious incidents requiring notification include “an uncontrolled explosion” [r103(2)(a)]


-Explosive malfunction that is not a misfire to be notified



Pyrotechnics display


-Require notification of display at least 7 days prior as per condition 94 [s14(2)] of Blasting Licence.



-Pyrotechnicians to notify of intended use of fireworks [r146]. Notification is to the regulator, fire authority and local council.


-Notice of a fireworks display to regulator [r141] and emergency services [r142].

-Notice after fireworks display (including malfunctions and incidents) [r143].

-Fireworks contractor must give notice to display host [r140].



Mutual recognition -Not clear from Regs or Act, but SafeWork SA publication, Guide for applicants: Dangerous goods vehicle licence, indicates interstate dangerous goods vehicle licences are recognised (p. 3).

-The SafeWork SA Licence Recognition web page does not include explosives licences in those listed for mutual recognition.

However, SA did sign to the IGA for mutual recognition of occupational licences extending to shotfirer licence and pyrotechnician’s licences


-Interstate shotfirer’s permits recognised – have a certificate of recognition.

[r44(b)] and [r54 and r55].

-SSDS Act has provision for mutual recognition if the regulator is satisfied that the other permits correspond to SSDS permits [SSDS Act, s 23].

-Authority to carry explosives by rail [r101(1)(b) and (2)(b).

-Authority to drive vehicles carrying explosives [r107(1)(a)].


-Not specified in the Regs or the Act, but the Worksafe NT website states that NT recognises current licences issued by other states (excepting shotfirer) and that workers moving to the NT can use their interstate licences until they expire (thereafter they need an NT licence).

Use/handle – pyrotechnician Ý

-Pyrotechnician licence [Fireworks Regs, r9].

– Pyrotechnic


-Pyrotechnician licence is a type of shotfirer’s permit [r84] and is required to prime


-Fireworks display operator licence or permit is required to use controlled


– Permit for fireworks display [r141].

Fireworks Use/handle – general public Y

-Exempt display permit is available for public or community purposes under certain circumstances [Fireworks Regs, r22].


-Type 1 fireworks are exempt explosives and the Explosives regs do not apply [4(1)]. Type 1 fireworks are those fireworks intended for use inside domestic premises and listed in Schedule 5. A person does not have to be a pyrotechnician to use them [r86(1) Note 1].

-Type 2 and Type 3 fireworks displays are not to be held without a permit [r4 and r87].

-A fireworks display permit authorises a single fireworks display [r89(2)(a)].


-Handling of general use fireworks is allowed under the Act with no restrictions apart from general safety duties under the Act [note to r100(1)(d)].

-General use fireworks are identified in r259.

-Chapter 3 of the Explosives Regs does not apply to general fireworks [r262].

-A person must use a general firework in accordance with written instructions [r263].


-Members of the public can purchase and use ‘shop goods fireworks during the retail purchase approved period [r139-140] and do not need a licence.

This is on 1 July.

-At other times there are permits for fireworks displays [r141] and permits to handle special effects [r143].


Incidents – death, injury, property damage


-No requirements in Explosives Regulations.

-Duties to notify can be placed as licence conditions. [s48A].

-WHS requirement to notify regulator of deaths, injury or dangerous incident [s38 WHS Act].

-Accidents for activities controlled under the Dangerous Substances Regulation 2002 [r8].


-s28 of the Explosives Act 2012 states an occupier of an explosives location must notify the authority of an explosives emergency and of any resulting serious harm.

-Also WHS requirement to notify regulator of deaths, injury or dangerous incident [s38 WHS Act].


-Notification of explosive incidents [r24].

-Also WHS requirement to notify regulator of deaths, injury or dangerous incident [s38 WHS Act].


-No requirement in Dangerous Goods Reg, though is provision for Competent Authority to inquire about ‘dangerous occurrences’ and compel people to provide information [r27]

-Also WHS requirement to notify regulator of deaths, injury or dangerous incident [s38 WHS Act].

Safety reports Y

-Duties to notify can be placed as licence conditions. [s48A].

-For DG transport refer to [r148]

-For accidents under the Dangerous Substances Regulation 2002 refer to r8].

Explosive malfunction Y

-Duties to notify can be placed as licence conditions. [s48A].


-Authorised officers must be notified of defective explosives [r37(3)(d)].


Pyrotechnics display


-Notification of fireworks displays and special effects displays [r13]

Duties to notify can be placed as licence conditions [s48A].


-Fireworks display permits required (which have been treated as ‘licences’) [r87].

-Permit holder must give 7 days’ notice of the display to various people and authorities

[Sch 7].


-Permit for fireworks display instead of notification (see licenses).

-Notice of the display to be placed in the newspaper [r316].

-Notice is to be provided to police, fire and emergency services [r317].

-A report after the display is to be provided to the regulator [r325].


-Permit for fireworks display [r141].