Fireworks display companies across the nation should be ‘dancing, dancing, dancing in the streets’ (to coin a San Francisco Bay-area phrase) as a result of the ATF’s timely issuance of a ruling favorably addressing the com-mon practice of open storage ‘pick’ bins. Ruling 2012-2 (indicating the second ruling issued in 2012 calendar year) (the “Ruling”), supersedes all prior variances for approval relating to the subject of fixed, unmarked and uncovered storage bins. The Ruling specifically authorizes all Federal explosives licensees and permittees to store display fireworks in fixed, unmarked and uncovered bins inside explosive materials storage magazines provided all of the following stated requirements are met:

  1. All items must be fully contained within the bin (no dangling leaders). In fact, the bin must be designed and function to prevent spillage of its contents;

  2. The bin must be stable and either constructed or lined with non-sparking material; additionally, all exposed nails and screws need to be either countersunk or permanently covered with a non-sparking material. These requirements are merely extensions of current regulations;

  3. The bin must be constructed in such manner that it is within the storage magazine and not susceptible to moving or fall over during the storage, handpicking, inventory, and inspection processes. The language of the ruling on this specific requirement ruling is vague, but it may be interpreted to mean that it is not a requirement to anchor or attach the bins to the storage magazine but, at the same time, the bin system should be designed to avoid and minimize unintended movement;

  4. The doors to the storage magazine must remain closed at all times when not attended; and

  5. The display fireworks must be readily and clearly identifiable; this can be accomplished by ensuring that the bin is clearly labeled and the shells within that specific bin share the same labeling information.

Importantly, satisfaction of the foregoing requirements is in addition to necessary compliance with the following provisions:

1. Whenever open bins within a storage magazine are used, all exposed explosives materials (i.e., materials not located comfortably within the bin) must be stored in covered containers. For instance, uncovered containers of black powder, flash powder, or loose igniters are not permitted within the confines of a storage magazine containing uncovered bins, although it may be permissible if these items were stored in a covered container that is also clearly marked;

2. A complete prohibition against storing damaged fireworks having exposed black powder match or pyrotechnic powder; this prohibition is without any stated threshold or measurement to be guided by, so this provision is susceptible to a zero tolerance standard;

3. Complete prohibition against partially assembled fireworks having exposed black powder match or pyrotechnic powder; this prohibition is without any stated threshold or measurement to be guided by; so, again, this provision is also susceptible to a zero tolerance standard; and

4. Quickmatch and other pyrotechnics fuses with exposed ends must be contained in a sealed bag whenever they are being stored within a storage magazine containing open bins; in contrast, such items do not require sealing whenever the contents in a storage magazine are completely covered.

In those instances where igniters are affixed to the display fireworks contained in an uncovered bin, the ATF also imposes the following additional requirements:

  1. Each igniter head must be fully shrouded;

  2. Each igniter must be shunted or contain an electrical cap or nut; and

  3. The igniter wire and the quickmatch leader to each display firework in a bin must be secured, or attached, to each other so as to minimize entanglement with other items in the same bin.

The foregoing provisions seem to set a regime whereby open bins containing display fireworks (and, whenever applicable, their quickmatch leaders) are not compatible with open containers of explosive materials within the same storage magazine. In the reverse, covered marked containers of display fireworks may be lawfully stored in a storage magazine together with open containers of explosive materials, such as flash powder. The provisions also seek to promote other generalized good housekeeping rules, such as instituting measures to keep display fireworks and their component parts from becoming entangled with one another in a bin.

A clarification may be needed regarding whether the bins need to be labeled, separate and apart from the display fireworks inside them. In the Ruling, item 5 expressly described “labels on the bins” as part of satisfying one of the five primary conditions; but, elsewhere, the Ruling provides that the bin itself can be unmarked provided that the display fireworks contained therein are clearly identifiable. This seeming inconsistency requires clarification, but until otherwise directed you may take comfort in the fact that the numerous references to the term “unmarked”–such as in the phrase “fixed, unmarked, and uncovered bins…” far outnumbers the single reference to “labels on the bin”; and, consequently, the Ruling may be fairly interpreted as not requiring labeling of uncovered bins provided all display fireworks within it are clearly identifiable. Also, by virtue of the fact that the inspection process includes a counting of all display fireworks, the labeling of the bin is seemingly redundant; however, labeling of the bin may prove to be a time-saving feature for employees.

Procedurally, to the extent that the Ruling is in the form of an authorization of an alternate method or procedure it is self-effectuating and, therefore, implementation does not require the submission of a formal request for a variance. However, the Ruling is discretionary in all respects, meaning that the ATF can notify a licensee or permittee that usage of fixed, unmarked and uncovered bins are no longer authorized.

In conclusion, the Ruling should come as welcome relief to the display fireworks community. To date, there has been much confusion, and variation, regarding the interpretation and enforcement of the standards relating to pick bins and, as a result, many display companies were caught unaware of its implementation; the Ruling may act to set a firm date when it comes to the issue of notice. The Ruling itself succeeds in striking a proper and sensitive balance between everyone’s desire to maintain safety and to perform unimpeded inspections with the realities of workplace efficiencies that may be unique to the fireworks industry


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