Personal Injury, Serious Injury & Clinical Negligence

Coroner to make recommendations for future firework displays following M5 motorway tragedy

Her Majesty’s Senior Coroner for West Somerset, Mr Michael Rose is to hold a meeting to address the circumstances of the road traffic collision on the M5 motorway on 4 November 2011 in which 7 people tragically lost their lives and many others were injured.

BACKGROUND

On 4 November 2011 7 people died in multi-vehicle collisions on the M5 motorway after vehicles entered an area of greatly reduced visibility.  The cause of the obscuration was found at the subsequent Inquest in April this year to be naturally occurring fog, although the possibility of smoke from an adjoining firework display from the nearby Taunton Rugby Football Club further reducing visibility could not be excluded.

At the Inquest the Senior Coroner found that the firework display was close to the motorway and that there was a very real risk when fireworks are fired when the humidity was extremely high, the chemicals discharged will cause the visibility to be greatly reduced when fog is also present.

Further, there appeared to be no general knowledge at that time within the industry of firework operators of this effect and certainly no written literature warning operators to take extra care.

This is the first recorded incident of such a possibility at least in the United Kingdom, though two subsequent incidents have occurred, one in Scotland and the other in the Philippines.

Although there was no bonfire with the display the effect of smoke from a bonfire can present an even greater hazard.

At the moment the only restriction in force is that no firework display should be within 50 feet of the centre of a highway.

The Coroner has powers to make recommendations under Rule 28 of the Coroner’s (Investigations) Regulations 2013 to prevent any future reoccurrence of such events.

AIM

The Coroner aims to make recommendations to create legislation to ensure such risks do not occur in the future but which, insofar as possible, do not prevent future firework displays entirely.

PROBLEMS

HM Senior Coroner has identified a number of considerations:

To ascertain the distance from a major public road under which any firework display and/or bonfire associated therewith shall not occur in any weather conditions.

  1. To see whether or not the regulations shall be limited to firework displays of a certain size and in particular those operated by persons holding a Class I or Class II licence.
  2. To ensure that the operators of any such events are aware of the risks associated by the discharge of fireworks where there is either fog present or the air humidity exceeds a certain level.
  3. And if the humidity level is very high, should the distances referred to in paragraph 1 above, be increased or the event cancelled.
  4. Should all training programmes for firework operators contain advice about the association of the firework smoke and chemicals with fog.

The Senior Coroner will discuss the considerations raised and his recommendations at the meeting which will be held at The Old Municipal Building, Corporation Street, Taunton on 10 June 2014 at 11.00am.

If you have any questions arising from these issues or the M5 collision, please contact Lee Hart, Partner on 0345 209 1465 or by email Lee.Hart@clarkewillmott.com.