Battery and charger safety is a key issue for the mobile phone industry and also needs to be taken seriously by all mobile phone users particularly in regard to immediately reporting any problems to manufacturers, the use of only genuine batteries and chargers, how to avoid counterfeit products and taking more care in way they handle and charge their devices.
Battery and charger safety is a complex issue and there are four important issues to consider:
1. Carefully follow battery care and safe use guidelines
Because modern mobile phone lithium-ion batteries are more sensitive to physical stress, they have to be treated with care. Therefore, mobile phone users need to carefully follow the safety guidelines and advice which come with mobile phones to ensure batteries are handled and used safely.
2. 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, and should only buy replacements from reputable and approved sellers.
3. Make sure replacement batteries and chargers have approved safety marks
Because many cheaper non-genuine batteries and chargers do not have the built-in safety measures, users 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.
4. Immediately report any battery or charger incidents
Finally, because of the demand for larger and higher quality screens, longer battery life and increased processing power, mobile phone manufacturers are always at the leading edge of battery development, and there have been problems with batteries in new models of mobile phones such as the recent incidents with the new Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphone. Therefore, users should immediately report any problems with or concerns about charging their mobile phones. This will ensure the problem is immediately fixed or the product is recalled as soon as possible.
- 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 damaged mobile phones overheating in aircraft when they have been accidentally crushed after a phone has been dropped into the side of the seat and then 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 you immediately stop using your mobile phone if the battery is damaged in anyway, such as due to use in an excessively hot environment, dropping the battery, external pressure on the battery or being bitten by a pet due to the risk of overheating which can result in a fire or explosion.
They also warn you to not carry your device in your back pockets or on your waist because if you are bumped or fall over the device may be damaged if too much pressure is applied to it.
They also recommend phones must have adequate ventilation and airflow and should not be covered with material such as bedding, especially when being recharged.
Finally they recommend your replace the damaged battery 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.
- Buy replacements from reputable and approved sellers
Around the world, there have been numerous media reports 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 eventually done the incidents are most often caused by the use of cheap non-genuine chargers or batteries.
Counterfeit mobile phone batteries are also serious problem. Past media reports allege that two people in Vietnam have been burned from separate mobile phone battery explosions within days of each other. A man was playing billiards when he felt heat in his pocket where his mobile was heating up. He found the mobile phone battery smouldering.
A woman in Ho Chi Minh City was earlier injured when her mobile exploded at breakfast. She was hospitalised with burns. The incidents in Vietnam follow two similar accidents reported in the Netherlands. In all of these incidents after investigations the batteries were found to be counterfeit.
Counterfeit and some third party manufactured batteries do not meet all of the safety requirements that prevent these incidents. 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 are also a number of unconfirmed incidents, including graphic pictures, circulated via an email ‘warning’ designed to scare people that includes well-meaning but misguided safety advice. These are known urban myths.
The correct safety advice, as provided in mobile phone manuals, is to only buy genuine branded or approved batteries and chargers from from reputable and approved sellers to ensure the batteries are not counterfeit and meet electrical safety standards.
- Make sure replacement batteries and chargers have approved safety marks
In April 2016, Australian mobile phone users were warned only to use only genuine batteries and chargers following the death of a consumer after using a cheap unapproved USB charger.
The 28 year old NSW Central Coast woman was wearing headphones and holding her laptop with burns to her ears and chest when found dead. It appeared that she was electrocuted.
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.
Consequently, the Fair Trading Commissioner in New South Wales, Rod Stowe, launched 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.”
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.
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 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 it will reduce the electricity bill because you are not paying 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, but in all of these cases have been rectified by mobile phone manufacturers as soon as they have become aware of the problems.
Once an incident is reported manufacturers need to investigate whether or not the problem involves a genuine product or a cheap non-genuine replacement battery or charger and it’s even more difficult when the problem involves counterfeit batteries and chargers. This is why the industry needs consumers to report all concerns as soon as possible and to give them access to the damaged phone or charger.
Known 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.
In August 2007 Nokia advised its customers that a certain Nokia-branded BL-5C batteries could short circuit and overheat while charging causing the battery to dislodge from the charger.
In September 2003, Sony Ericsson advised customers about a faulty model of charger and replaced chargers for a range of its handsets in the UK.
29 March 2017