By Stanely Mwiinga
A CELL phone has become an indispensible part of our lives; it is the most reliable form of communication around the world. According to GSMA data, there are over five billion people with active mobile phone connection in the world. That translates to over 70 percent of the world’s population having a cell phone.
A cell phone is a portable device operated through a cellular radio network and powered by a battery. Over the past few years we have heard a lot of stories about cell phone batteries exploding and causing electrocutions and fires.
Emails and WhatsAp messages have been circulating about dangers of using a cell phone while it is charging. Every year there are a small number of cell-related deaths and injuries reported in the news.
Here are some of the stories around the globe which claim that death occurred due to the explosion of the cell phone battery.
In 2013, a Chinese flight attendant’s iPhone 4 exploded when she used it while it was charging. As it turns out, the attendant was using a third-party charger, not the Apple charger that ships with the phone. It was almost certainly the cause of the incident. Apple reacted with a statement urging customers to avoid using counterfeit products, and posted instructions how to spot real and fake Apple chargers.
In another shocking incident, Luiza Pinheiro, a 17-year-old from Brazil, died because she was using her mobile phone while charging. The earphones were in her ears and as soon as she received a phone call, she got electrocuted. The electric surge passed through her phone, through her ears, hitting her brain and causing her death.
In February 2015 The Moscow Times reported that two women, in two different incidents – died from electric shock when using their phones while bathing. In at least one case, it was suspected that a plugged-in phone fell into the bathtub while the woman was accessing a social media site.
This other incident is about a baby, as we know babies and toddlers love putting things in their mouth and its normal, but it’s important for parents to watch over them.
Last year a US mum, Courtney N Davis shared on her Facebook page what happened to her 19-month old daughter saying;
“I wasn’t going to post about this until I posted in a mom group and found out many parents don’t think twice about the danger of a phone charger around children.
On September 28th, my 19- month-old stuck my phone charger in her mouth. We went to the Dr who confirmed that it was an electrical burn, there was nothing they could put on it due to her being able to lick it.
Any other day my charger wouldn’t have been plugged up in her reach but because of a bunch of stuff going on that day I didn’t have time to move it. It took all of a few seconds for her to get burned. She had never tried to put it in her mouth and she had never messed with it.
That one day she stuck it in her mouth and got a severe burn. Parents, Grandparents, babysitters etc please put your chargers up out of reach. My daughter was lucky, the next kid may not be as lucky as her.” That’s exactly what she wrote on her FB page.
These are some of the fatal cases that have been reported. Most of these incidents were said to have occurred as a result of faulty and/or unauthorised chargers or batteries. People have a tendency of replacing batteries or chargers with those that are not meant for their phone.
It’s possible for a phone to overheat, batteries work in limited operating temperature range from (-10 to 50 degc). If you’re talking on the phone while charging, it will either slow down the charge or draw down the battery more slowly until you finally hang up. Using the phone while talking may cause the phone to overheat, as the electronics inside the phone might overheat if the battery is also heating up.
Well-designed phones use temperature sensors to stop or reduce charging current when the temperature increases. When you talk on phone while it is charging, the processor generated heat and battery generated heat both increase the battery temperature to raise rapidly. If it reaches above 50 degrees then there is a high risk of explosion.
Before you charge using a different charger, make sure you check the voltage and amperage on your charger to make sure it’ll work with your device. Voltage is what pulls energy into the device. It is dangerous if the voltage is too high.
For mobile phones the voltage is typically 5V. Take a look on the charger you will see a tiny label that contains the input and output levels: Most cell phone batteries fully charge at round 4.2 volts so the charger output must be greater than 4.2v. If the charger is only rated to output 3v, then that will not charge a 4.2v battery.
Check also the amperage, if your phone requires 700mA and your charger only supplies 500mA, many issues can occur, ranging from very slow charging to overheating.
Regulation and safety protocols of electronics are of great importance, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends certain safety precautions:
- Use your phone’s Original charger
Sometimes cheap is expensive, cheap chargers from unknown manufacturers should always be avoided. Always make sure that the charger you use and battery you use on the mobile device are of the same brand and specifically meant for your phone.
This minimises the risk of overheating because different chargers have different outputs and if your charger does not match the original one then it is going to affect the batteries performance.
The charger’s output voltage and the amperage should be used according to the manufacturer’s approved specifications. The battery specs should be in accordance with that of the charger.
Those Cheap chargers often lack the safety mechanisms that protects from power fluctuation and over-charging. Always check battery temperature when using a low-cost battery or charger and remove battery when warm.
- Continuous use of fast chargers may not be the best thing for your battery
It’s a fast world and we always want fast things, using a faster charger may be helpful in getting our phones to charge up faster but usually we don’t even check the specs. A high-voltage charger is faster but it causes stress because a faster charger transmits a higher voltage to the phone’s battery and this could lead to a sudden rise in temperature.
Do not charge if the Ah rating is too high (more than 25 percent). If your phone heats up abnormally it’s advised to turn it off and allow the device to cool down before charging it again.
- Unplug charger when its full
Current recognised phone brands have good power control sensors but we can’t assume all phones are made that way, it’s advised to avoid overcharging your phone because it might affect the battery’s performance. It can also overheat, explode, or catch fire. So, always keep it unplugged when it is full.
- Avoid third-party battery apps, usually they are not very effective
- Avoid placing the mobile near heating appliances, or areas where it may get overheated, like sunlight, kitchen stove or gas, microwave oven, iron, or other radiation-emitting appliance
- Observe charge temperature. Lead acid batteries should stay lukewarm to the touch; nickel-based batteries will get warm towards the end of charge but must cool down on “ready.” Li-ion should not rise more than 10ºC above ambient when reaching full charge.
Billions of cell phones have been sold, and only a handful of exploding cell phone stories have surfaced. You are unlikely to encounter any danger from an exploding phone but it is always important to take precautions. The current high level phones being made, manage power well if used with the right charger or battery so always take precautions, life is precious.
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