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Mobile Phone Battery and Charger Safety

Battery and charger safety is an important issue for both the mobile phone industry and all mobile phone users.  It is essential that mobile phone users:

  • immediately report any problems to manufacturers;
  • only use genuine batteries and chargers;
  • familiarise themselves with how to avoid counterfeit products; and
  • take more care in the way devices are handled and charged.

Battery and charger safety is a complex issue and there are four important issues to consider:

  • Carefully follow battery care and safe use guidelines. As modern mobile phone lithium-ion batteries are more sensitive to physical stress, they must  be treated with care. Therefore, mobile phone users need to carefully follow the safety guidelines and advice which is provided with mobile phones to ensure batteries are handled and used safely.
  • Buy replacements from reputable and approved sellers. Consumers also need to be aware of counterfeit batteries and chargers that look just like genuine batteries and chargers but don’t meet safety standards. Consumers should only purchase  replacements from reputable and approved sellers.
  • Make sure replacement batteries and chargers have approved safety marks. As many cheaper non-genuine batteries and chargers do not have the built in safety measures, consumers  should only buy replacement batteries and chargers that have been approved for use and are appropriately marked to show they have passed the required electrical safety standards.
  • Immediately report any battery or charger incidents. Recently there have been reported problems with batteries in some new models of mobile phones, such as the new Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphone.  While manufacturers conduct their own comprehensive testing, and would alert customers to any know issues, it is also prudent that if users notice any problems or are concerned about charging their mobile phones, this should be reported to the manufacturer immediately.


1. Carefully follow battery care and safe use guidelines

Lithium-ion batteries hold a lot of energy in a small package.  They offer numerous advantages over other types of batteries, including the capacity to hold their charge longer and the ability to be recharged numerous times.  However, lithium-ion batteries are more sensitive to physical stress than the alkaline batteries found in toys and flashlights and they need to be treated with more care. 

For example, recently there have been reports of some damaged batteries overheating in aircraft.  Some users have reported  their mobile phone catching on fire after it has been dropped into the side of the seat and then crushed when the seat has been reclined.  Understandably, airlines are now warning customers to take more care when handling mobile phones on aircraft to avoid battery fires and explosions.

Manufacturer safety guidelines recommend that users  immediately stop using the  mobile phone if the battery is damaged in anyway. Damage can be caused by  using the phone in extreme heat, dropping the battery, placing external pressure on the battery or the battery being chewed  by an animal.  All of these scenarios can cause  battery overheating which can result in a fire or explosion.

Manufacturers  also warn users   not to carry  devices in  back pockets of trousers or carry them attached to  the  waist, because if the user is bumped or falls over, the device may be damaged if excessive  pressure is applied to it. Manufacturers  also recommend that phones have adequate ventilation and airflow and should not be covered with material such as bedding, especially when being recharged.

Finally,  it is also recommended that damaged batteries are replaced  with clearly branded or approved batteries from reputable and approved sellers to ensure the batteries are not counterfeit.

As a general guide, the U.S. Consumer Protection Safety Commission recommends the following:

  • Do not use incompatible cell phone batteries and chargers. Some Web sites and second-hand dealers, not associated with reputable manufacturers and carriers, might be selling incompatible or even counterfeit batteries and chargers. Consumers should purchase manufacturer or carrier recommended products and accessories. If unsure about whether a replacement battery or charger is compatible, contact the manufacturer of the battery or charger.
  • Do not permit a battery out of the phone to come in contact with metal objects, such as coins, keys or jewelry.
  • Do not crush, puncture or put a high degree of pressure on the battery as this can cause an internal short-circuit, resulting in overheating.
  • Avoid dropping the cell phone. Dropping it, especially on a hard surface, can potentially cause damage to the phone and battery. If you suspect damage to the phone or battery, take it to a service center for inspection.
  • Do not place the phone in areas that may get very hot, such as on or near a cooking surface, cooking appliance, iron, or radiator.
  • Do not get your phone or battery wet. Even though they will dry and appear to operate normally, the circuitry could slowly corrode and pose a safety hazard.
  • Follow battery usage, storage and charging guidelines found in the user's guide.


2. Buy replacements from reputable and approved sellers

There have been numerous media reports globally which claim mobile phones and chargers have overheated and caused fires or have exploded and injured people. These reports are quick to point out the brand of mobile phone involved, but when the investigation is completed  the incidents are most often caused by the use of cheap non-genuine chargers or batteries.

Counterfeit mobile phone batteries are also causing serious problems.  There have been media reports  about two people in Vietnam being burned from separate mobile phone battery explosions within days of each other.  Another article reports that a man was playing billiards when he felt heat in his pocket where he kept his mobile phone. Upon investigation, he found the mobile phone battery smouldering. 

A woman in Ho Chi Minh City was  injured when her mobile phone exploded resulting in her hospitalisation.  These incidents in Vietnam follow two similar accidents reported in the Netherlands.  All of the investigations that followed these incidents found the batteries to be counterfeit.

Counterfeit and some third party manufactured batteries do not meet  safety requirements. Non genuine batteries may not have safety circuits which regulate voltage, current and heat within the battery – without these the battery can short circuit and explode or heat up and burn people.

There have also been a number of unconfirmed incidents circulated via  email depicting graphic injuries  designed to scare people that includes well-meaning but misguided safety advice.  These are known urban myths.

The correct safety advice, as provided by manufacturers in the mobile phone manuals, is to only buy genuine branded or approved batteries and chargers from  reputable and approved sellers.


3. Make sure replacement batteries and chargers have approved safety marks

In April 2016, Australian mobile phone users were advised to  only  use  genuine batteries and chargers following the death of a woman  in NSW. The woman was found deceased with her headphones on and holding a laptop with an unapproved USB charger connected. She appeared to have suffered burns to her ears and chest. The cause of death was found to be electrocution.

This tragedy highlights the importance of consumers using only genuine and approved mobile phones and accessories, such as chargers and batteries, which have undergone tests for quality and safety. Following this incident, the Fair Trading Commissioner in New South Wales, Rod Stowe, took action to seize fake mobile phone accessories from stores that netted thousands of unapproved and counterfeit products.

At one premises, 4,573 items were found and have been seized. Samples examined and confiscated on site were unapproved and potentially dangerous USB phone chargers, including counterfeit well-known brand products Apple, LG, Samsung, Huawei and Motorola. Some of the chargers confiscated were not branded but styled on a branded product. A number of the items seized were labelled with a false approval number. In addition to the electrical items seized at the premises 6,657 non-authentic branded items were seized, including mobile device batteries, leads and accessories.

At another premises the execution of a search warrant resulted in the seizure of hundreds of chargers, cables, adapters and unauthentic branded mobile device batteries. Those batteries were branded with Samsung and Apple logos. “Non-authentic batteries may pose a significant fire risk due to potentially inferior manufacturing quality,” the Commissioner said.

The NSW office of Fair Trading also put out a media release to warn consumers of the dangers of unapproved electrical devices. “The unapproved devices do not meet the essential safety requirements of Australian standards and are often made of inferior plastics and other insulation materials,” the Commissioner said. “Devices found by Fair Trading had no insulation on pins, or approval marks.” “Consumers must avoid these products and retailers should not be selling them.”

EnergySafe Victoria  also advised consumers to search the Australian Certification Database for approved electrical appliances before buying a charger.

All genuine mobile phone batteries and chargers must undergo stringent testing to ensure they meet all national and international levels of safety. Uncertified batteries and chargers can be produced to appear legitimate and as a cheap alternative to genuine accessories, but often contain sub-standard components, low quality manufacturing and poor performance.

Electrical goods must be approved for sale and are tested before being allowed on the market. The easiest way to know if an item is approved is to check it has an approval mark.

Mobile phone chargers are regulated under legislation in each state and are required to be approved by the relevant state regulators. To gain approval, each model of charger is tested and required to meet an Australian safety standard that is equivalent to a corresponding international standard. Tests evaluate the capacity of the charger to maintain suitable temperatures when the mobile phone is removed and the charger is left on.

However, as with any electrical product, it is always advisable to disconnect chargers when they are not in use. This will reduce the possibility of failure and  electricity bills  eliminating the need to pay for standby power consumption.


4. Immediately report any battery or charger incidents

Every year, there are many lithium-ion battery recalls around the world involving thousands of products such as laptops, household appliances, toys and power tools.  This has included a number of recalls of mobile phones. In all of these cases, mobile phone manufactures have rectified any issues as soon as they have become aware of them.

More recent mobile phone battery recalls:

  • In September 2016, US Consumer Protection Safety Commission ordered a nationwide recall of the new Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphone, which followed an earlier voluntary recall by Samsung after reports the device's lithium-ion batteries were overheating and catching fire.
  • In Australia, a software update was installed to limit the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphone battery to a maximum charge of 60 percent and replacement handsets became available from September 21, 2016.
  • From December 15 2016, Samsung Electronics Australia, in collaboration with local telecommunications regulators and operator partners, discontinued Australian network services for Galaxy Note7 devices in Australia. All consumers with this device were required to return it to their place of purchase for a full refund.

Once an incident is reported, the first step in the investigation process is for manufacturers  to determine whether or not the problem involves a genuine product or a non genuine replacement battery or charger.   It is important for consumers to report all concerns as soon as possible and  provide the relevant manufacturer with access to the damaged phone or charger.ENDS

1 May 2017

 

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