Advocacy Visits Pa. Fireworks Retailer to Learn About Safety Regs and Compliance

By Emily Theroux, Public Affairs Assistant

As the federal watchdog for small businesses, Advocacy makes a priority of visiting small businesses and hearing both their successes and challenges with federal regulatory compliance.

Understanding the concerns and needs of small business owners in various industries is a crucial part of accurately representing the nation’s small businesses in the federal government.

On May 16, several interagency attorneys and a regulatory economist toured a small fireworks retailer in Pennsylvania.  The owners (who wish to remain anonymous) of the company have been in the fireworks industry since their late teens and their business has been running for more than two decades. As a leading seller of fireworks in Pennsylvania, the owners operate five superstores throughout the state.

In addition to heavy state regulations and laws, fireworks retailers are subject to strict rules and regulations under the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to ensure that the fireworks being sold are safe for consumer use. The CPSC checks the safety of fireworks in many ways, including by assessing the type of explosion made by aerial fireworks like stick rockets, reloadable shells, and cake shots.  Under CPSC’s current test, which evaluates the sound of explosions, about 17 percent of aerial fireworks fail. However, due to some concern over the reliability of this test, the CPSC is proposing a new method and rule that would test the chemicals in fireworks that explode in the air, instead of the sound they produce. If the proposed rule takes effect, CPSC’s data suggests that about 84 percent of aerial fireworks that are currently on the market would fail. While large fireworks importers and retailers may absorb the cost of failed fireworks, this 394 percent jump in failed devices poses an astronomical cost on small fireworks retailers and could put them out of business.

“This industry is seasonal, 99 percent of all profit from fireworks in the United States is accrued in a matter of days” explained one of the owners. Small fireworks retailers and importers often only purchase a relatively small amount of fireworks before high season due to inability to afford the space needed for storing large quantities.

“When small businesses can only profit from a small quantity of fireworks, losing 84 percent of that stock would not only put them out of business, it would leave them in debt,” the owner continued. Because the fireworks are ordered and paid for in advanced, the business assumes full financial risk of test failure.”

A major influence of the push for stricter testing methods stems from the number of reported deaths and injuries involving fireworks.  In 2015, for example, the CPSC reported eleven deaths related to fireworks. Of the eleven deaths, nine were reported to involve misuse. The remaining two deaths occurred from homemade fireworks which are illegal to sell.

“The safety of our consumers and safe use of our fireworks is our number one priority” the owner stated.  He noted that most fireworks should only be used by adults, and only in accordance with the products’ instructions and warnings.  The company commends CPSC for its efforts in promoting consumer education about fireworks safety and hopes that the federal agency will continue to consider small fireworks retailers when evaluating whether the burdens of proposed regulations may outweigh their possible benefits.

Also while in Pennsylvania, Advocacy took full advantage of their day.  “Of course, we couldn’t go to Pennsylvania without visiting Julius Sturgis Pretzel Factory,” said Prianka Sharma, Assistant Chief Counsel.  From humble beginnings in the 1850s, this small family business located in Litiz, PA became America’s first commercial pretzel bakery and ownership and management has remained within the family to this day. The group enjoyed touring the original factory and learning about how the pretzel manufacturing process has changed over the years.