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Why Are Mobile Phones Banned At Petrol Stations In Ireland?
No doubt everyone has at some stage noticed these warning signs at the petrol pumps when filling up, but have you ever thought about them, and are they common sense, particularly why mobile phones are banned at petrol pumps in Ireland.
No Smoking. That’s definitely a no brainer. We all know that petrol or diesel give off extremely flammable fumes that even the slightest spark would ignite. So definitely no smoking.
No Naked Flames. Ok, also common sense, and we assume it relates to someone using a lighter or matches for some reason, perhaps to light a cigarette, or maybe to help fill up in the dark or find something they have dropped. We hope no one is lighting a scented candle in order to set the mood when filling up their tank. So no naked flames please.
Switch Off Engine. We have done some research into this one and there seems to be a few different reasons for this. The first is to do with static electricity. The concern is that your car can build up static electricity while it is idling, and again with the amount of fumes that are released when pumping fuel, a small spark of static electricity can cause the vapour to ignite and an explosive fire to be the result.
The second reason we found was to do with the exhaust fumes that vehicles give off when they are idling. They tend to build up around the static cars and can be extremely unpleasant to smell and inhale. And with Carbon Monoxide (CO) in exhaust fumes, it can be quite dangerous as CO is extremely toxic to humans as it bonds more readily with Red Blood Cells than Oxygen, which leads to Carbon Monoxide poisoning.
No Mobile Phones. So what is that about? Is it in case you get distracted while pumping your fuel and inadvertently start a petrol fight like that scene in Zoolander? No, it’s once again to do with static electricity. Scroll down to see a video of a mobile phone causing a fire at a petrol station in the United States.
Mobile phones work on battery power and electrical circuits which generate a certain amount of heat and static. The fear is that even the smallest spark can start a fire with all the fuel vapour that is on a petrol station forecourt. The use of any electrical device is believed to be dangerous near petrol pumps.
In the UK, UKPIA, which stands for United Kingdom Petroleum Industry Association state that mobile phones have a;
Risk of incendive sparking – Mobile phones are not designed and certified for use in explosive atmospheres which exist temporarily around the pump and nozzle during refuelling as well as around the fill and vent pipes during petrol deliveries. Whilst the risk of incendive sparking from mobile phones is low, they are not intrinsically safe devices and should not be used in those hazardous areas (listed below) that exist on a forecourt.
Intrinsically Safe? What does intrinsically safe mean?
Intrinsically Safe is a new term for the majority of people and like all technical terms, can be rather long winded and hard to follow.
Our understanding of Intrinsic Safety (IS) is a design approach for equipment (in this discussion mobile phones) going into hazardous areas. The overall approach is to design equipment that reduces the available energy to a level where it is too low to cause ignition. Therefore, preventing sparks and keeping temperatures low.
Ok, even that sounds too technical. In layman’s terms, Intrinsically Safe Equipment have a zero chance of causing sparks that could lead to a fire of explosion. So that leads to our next question…
Are Mobile Phones Intrinsically Safe?
No. Mobile Phones are not Intrinsically Safe. They aren’t designed to be. The chance of them causing a spark ISN’T zero. That is why you can’t use them near petrol pumps.
However, even the UKPIA states the risk of this happening is low but how realistic is it that this could in fact happen.
Do Mobile Phones explode?
In short, yes they do. We did a lot of reading into this and there have been many examples of phones bursting into flames. There was such a problem with Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones exploding, that they were banned from being taken onto planes back in 2016. The problem seems to be incredibly rare but with millions of phones in circulation even the smallest percentage of incidents is significant. Particularly when you look at the fact that many people keep their phones in their pockets.
There are even a few videos on the internet showing the moment phones burst into flames, including one actually at a petrol station where static electricity from the phone causes the fumes to ignite!. They all seem to happen rapidly and burn with a high intensity flame.
Why do Mobile Phones explode?
From our research, the main issue is the battery, and there are several reasons why the battery would suddenly catch fire. We also read many quite technical reasons why the batteries would fail in such a spectacular fashion, but we won’t go into those, but the main ones seem to be;
- Manufacturing Defect – something that went wrong during the manufacturing stage of the phone assembly. A faulty component that didn’t get properly tested that could eventually cause a catastrophic failure with the phone.
- Physical Damage to the Battery – put simply, dropping your phone or something falling on it can cause damage to the battery that perhaps pierces it, leading to an electrical short circuit, overheating, swelling etc all of which can lead to the phone catching fire. If you ever notice a bulge or a swelling on the back of your phone. Don’t wait around, even if the phone is still working. Turn it off and get it to a repair centre immediately.
- 3rd Party Chargers – those cheap replacement chargers on Amazon or Ebay may seem like a good idea, but they are rarely properly tested and can lead to overcharging of your phone, which ultimately can lead to battery failure. They can shorten the life of your battery but also can lead to your battery short circuiting and going on fire. This is in incredibly rare, but we have read the evidence of this happening.
- Overnight Charging – I think a lot of us, the last thing we do at night is check our phone is plugged in to charge overnight. Unfortunately this can lead to overheating and overcharging, which as already stated can lead to battery failure. This is less of an issue now as many newer phones have chips and software in place to allow for more efficient and controlled overnight charging. This might still be an issue for older or more affordable brands of phones.
- Overheating due to sunlight – perhaps less of an issue in Ireland but there have been some cases where phones left in direct sunlight within cars have massively overheated and the batteries have gone on fire within the cars. We have all seen the warning signs ping up on iPhone screens when a phone has been left in the sun for too long, warning that the phone is overheating.
Are there any Mobile Phones safe to use around petrol pumps?
Yes. You need a mobile phone that is Intrinsically Safe. These devices are what is called ATEX rated. In other words they have been designed and tested to work in dangerous areas where the risk of fire and explosion is high. Not just at petrol pumps but within all aspects of the Oil industry. From the Oil Rigs, refineries and the fuel distribution companies such as the company that delivers your home heating oil.
We supply a range of ATEX rated walkie talkies but over the last few years a hybrid device has become increasingly popular. These are our ATEX rated smartphones by Conquest. They have been tested to the highest possible standard and have become the perfect alternative to a normal smartphone. They have all the functionality of your iPhone or Samsung but with the added advantage of an explosion proof walkie talkie.