Let the Chinese year of the snake bring charm not harm, urges RoSPA

As thousands of families celebrate Chinese New Year, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) is urging people to heed safety advice on sky lanterns.

Many of the paper lights, also called Chinese lanterns, will be let off into the night sky during this weekend’s festivities to mark the year of the snake.

RoSPA, the UK’s leading accident prevention charity, wants families to enjoy themselves but remember to always follow instructions and guidance carefully as the lanterns can cause inadvertent problems for the coastguard and airports in particular.

Sheila Merrill, RoSPA’s public health adviser, said: “Chinese lanterns look very beautiful floating up in the night sky but RoSPA reminds people to stay safe by always following the instructions and be aware of issues that lanterns can pose.

“If released near the coast, lanterns have been reported as drifting out to sea and mistaken for a distress flare. Sadly, false alarms end up being a waste of valuable time and resources for coastguard services, which could also put others in danger.

“Lanterns can also be a distraction to pilots, and there is fire risk from the lights landing on thatched roofs, crops or other property. RoSPA has a list of guidelines on its website so families have all the advice they need in one place to enjoy a happy Chinese New Year.”

A survey carried out by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and trading standards services throughout the UK found incidents where fences, garden furniture, roofs, hedges, and other property had been either damaged or destroyed by Chinese lanterns. There were also cases of lanterns injuring or killing livestock.
Chinese New Year is followed by the Yuan Xiao Festival – or Lantern Festival – which includes children parading with the special lights, which are believed to bring good luck and prosperity to the person releasing them.

Chinese lanterns, made from thin fire retardant paper, contain a small candle or fuel cell, which when lit, heats the air and sends them rising into the air. Once the heat reduces, a lantern will float back to the ground, but the spot where it lands is unpredictable.

RoSPA’s guidelines when using Chinese lanterns are:
• Do not launch a lantern if any part of it is damaged
• Follow operating instructions very carefully and have a fire extinguisher or water nearby
• A lantern is not suitable for children under 16 and is not a toy – it should be launched by two adults
• Do not launch under the influence of alcohol
• A lantern should not be launched if winds are 5mph or more
• Do not launch within 5 miles of any airfield, airport or near the coast where lanterns may be interpreted as a distress signal
• Do not use near built-up areas, roads, crops, hay bales, trees or power lines.
Further safety advice on Chinese lanterns can be found at the RoSPA website.

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