Man electrocutes himself while charging his iPhone in the bathtub; Coroner to warn Apple

“A coroner is to warn Apple that iPhone chargers can be potentially lethal after a man was electrocuted in the bath,” Amie Gordon reports for The Daily Mail. “Richard Bull from Ealing in west London was pronounced dead by paramedics in his home on December 11. The 32-year-old was found by his wife Tanya, who thought her husband had been attacked because his burns were so severe.”

“At an inquest into his death the coroner issued a warning about using the ‘innocuous devices’ which can be ‘as dangerous as a hairdryer in a bathroom,'” Gordon reports. “Recording a verdict of accidental death, Dr Sean Cummings said: ‘These seem like innocuous devices but can be as dangerous as a hairdryer in a bathroom. ‘They should attach warnings. I intend to write a report later to the makers of the phone.'”

“PC Craig Pattison told the inquest at West London Coroner’s Court how he found the extension lead running from the hallway outside into the bathroom.’ ‘We found an iPhone plugged into the extension cable and then the charger element in the bath,’ he explained,” Gordon reports. “‘The extension cable was on the floor and it appeared as though he had his phone charger on his chest and the part between the phone charger and the cable had made contact with the water.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Our condolences to Bull’s family and friends.

Apple’s “iPhone User Guide” clearly states: “Failure to follow these safety instructions could result in fire, electric shock, injury, or damage to iPhone or other property. Read all the safety information below before using iPhone… Using damaged cables or chargers, or charging when moisture is present, can cause fire, electric shock, injury, or damage to iPhone or other property.”

62 Comments

      1. Actually, technically it is 240V, although it has nominally been 230V for quite some time now. Voltage between phases for 3-phase delivery is 415V.

        Continental Europe has 220V (with 380V voltage between phases).

      2. Thanks for the correction.

        My brother-in-law is a retired builder in Cambridgeshire. The first time I was in Britain he warned me that 240 is a completely different animal than American 110-117V mains power. British building codes are exceptionally strict about allowing points (outlets) near water, which is why this idiot was using an extension lead from a non-GFI point in the hallway.

        Every Briton realizes that electricity at their voltage will kill, which is why special warnings of death from electrical shock are superfluous. It would be like requiring lawn mover manufacturers to warn people not to shave with them.

        1. Absolutely correct, and despite that, lawnmower makers in the US and Canada now have to place hieroglyphic decals on their mowers warning idiots not to try to pick them up while running and use them as hedge shears. Yup, some moron did that, lost his fingers, and won in court claiming there was no clear warning … as the instructions were only in English. Let’s hope Apple fairs better.

      3. And…? Static electricity from walking across a carpet and then touching a metal object could be 25,000+ volts. It’s the amps that kill you, not the volts.

        1. And you can be killed by a 9V battery, if the voltage and amperage from that battery is applied in the wrong place. The voltage and amperage from the 240 V British system is more than adequate to kill, and this idiot had the charger laid on his chest, which means he also had the full voltage and average available of the extension cord end laid on his chest where that charger was plugged into it. This dolt could just as well of had a electric heater on his chest for all he cared about safety.

          There is also no indication that the charger was an Apple charger. There are a hell of a lot of third party chargers on the market and Apple found that 97% of them were incapable of regulating the charging amperage that was allowed through, unlike Apple’s charger.

          1. Well, let’s get some things straight. I can’t imagine how a 9V battery can kill unless you apply it to the heart which is very unlikely. 9V nor 12V (ie car battery) will kill by touching with hands, even wet hands. A 9V battery will tingle the tougue because of the moisture and the type of tissue.

            The human body when dry has 100K ohms of resistance. You need higher voltage to overcome higher resistance. Wet your hands and you still wont feel 9V nor 12V..

            According to Google (BTW I don’t believe what I am reading right now) it says it takes 100 to 200 mA to be lethal. 10 mA to produce a painful to severe shock. As far as I know, 110 will kill. If you hold on tight you might get 2mA to flow through your body. I am sure that will kill (holding on tight could get the resistance in your body to decrease significantly). That’s why I don’t agree with Google on this. Actually, its not Google, it’s: https://www.physics.ohio-state.edu/~p616/safety/fatal_current.html. From that site they say “Individuals have been electrocuted by appliances using ordinary house currents of 110 volts and by electrical apparatus in industry using as little as 42 volts direct current”. I think they got their mA and uA mixed up.

            1. Do you know what powers a Cattle Prod? A 9V battery. How about a Police grade Tazer? People have died when those have been used. They are powered by 9 V batteries. Ergo, a 9 V battery can kill, by using capacitors to step up the voltage and amperage that is discharged. . . and as I stated it depends on how it is applied. You stated you don’t believe what you read when you Googled the answer, but that is your problem. . . but if you interrupt the electrical signal to the heart with a minimal electrical charge the heart WILL stop and the person will die. Do you know, all how a cardiac pacemaker works and how much current it uses? Some pacemakers use 1.3v rechargeable batteries. I doubt you know much about the subject. It doesn’t take much Voltage or even amps and applying them at the wrong place and time will do it.

            2. Swordmaker: get real.

              I was going to explain your Cattle Prod statement but you already did. Conclusion: the nine volt battery does not kill and harm. It was the Cattle Prod that did. If you read the posts herein you will see that people are asking is it voltage or is it current and how much. Then you make the ridiculous statement that even 9V can kill.

              My retort was : “I can’t imagine how a 9V battery can kill unless you apply it to the heart which is very unlikely.” This article and associated posts, seemed to be about applying electrical energy to the outside of the body, hence, it is very unlikely a 9V battery would come in contact DIRECTLY with the heart. Other than that, what part of the body were you referring to. Well, I guess it was the heart. Seems to me I know as much, if not more, about the subject than you do. (again, I am still not sure random placement of the terminals of a 9V battery will do anything harmful. A pacemake, no doubt, has additional components (ie Cattle Prod) and it is connected to the heart in specific place(s).

              I shared the link Google suggested and I would encourage you to read it. It has much contradictory and silly statements and hence: “I dont believe what I am reading now” statement. I made that statement because I do know much about the subject, ohms law, and physics.

              Have you ever measure your body’s electrical resistance? Probably not. But I have.

            3. My point is that something does not have to be plugged into a major power source to kill by electricity. There is enough power in a nine volt battery to kill and that is the truth. There is enough in a 1.5 V. AAA cell to do it, if it is properly applied. That was my whole point. The original voltage does not matter, it’s how dense is the supply with energy and what you do with it that matters. There are a LOT of people who are convinced that anything battery operated is completely safe. Nothing could be further from the truth.

              You demonstrated your ignorance about the amount of amperage needed to kill. You even challenged it, saying you did not believe it. They picture a fairly standard chart which I have seen in quite a few places. I work in a medical field and pointed out to you that it is entirely possible to use a small voltage and a small amperage, properly applied, to do it.

              The physics are the physics and for you to say it can’t be true because it doesn’t agree with your apparently flawed knowledge of electricity is just wrong. That IS what it takes. And, yes, I have measure my body’s resistance. . . at least 55 years ago for the first time. But are you implying that the ability of an electrical current to penetrate the skin is the same as interrupting a micro voltage nerve impulse?

            4. Your own answer is basically correcting you.

              Hoffbegone is correct, 9V and 12V, flowing through human body (100kΩ) would result in the current of about 9-12 mA — enough to produce a shock, but nowhere near enough to kill (you’d nee ten times as much). 110V, flowing through the body, would result in lethal dose of current.

              The examples you specify are wrong; neither the cattle prod, nor the police tazer actually deliver just 9 (or 12)V; they use, as you correctly stated, capacitor/diode circuitry (Cockcroft–Walton circuit being the popular one) to drive that voltage from 9 (or 12)V to some 50,000V. However, it doesn’t kill you because it is designed to deliver no more than a few miliamps — enough to contract all muscles and incapacitate the person without stopping the heart.

            5. I built a Tesla Coil which produced over 500,000 Volts. . . but insignificant amperage. Arcs from that Tesla Coil would leap to a grounded item over four inches. . . but you could hold that grounded item in your hand and not feel the current running through you, or actually over you. The frequency was so high it could not penetrate your skin. Another one I built produced 250,000 volts and would jump to a bare finger held a half inch away. It only stung slightly. Again, not enough amperage to do much but it would light up fluorescent bulbs in its vicinity. . . up to a foot away. Both produced lots of Ozone (O3). Both were powered by a mere 12 volts D.C. . . but the primary coil driven by a capacitor could be lethal if you touched it. The transformer worked because the current, and therefore the magnetic field, was rapidly made and broken by that fairly large glass plate capacitor.

        2. Actually, what kills you is the current (measured in amps), which is equal to the voltage divided by the resistance. A circuit with (rounding for ease in calculation) 220V will deliver twice the current as a 110V circuit across the same resistance, such as a human body in a bathtub with grounded metal pipes. The shock will last about the same length of time until a breaker trips somewhere in the circuit.

          My brother-in-law had suffered brief shocks at both voltages. The 115V stung; the 230V knocked him out (and fortunately away from the power source). Static electricity does not have the same effects on the human body as current electricity.

          1. Year ago my father encountered 600Vdc on an industrial electric motor/controller (steel mill rolling) and got thrown back against a wall. Several factors drive the lethality of an electric shock. At some sets of conditions, for instance, you are physically unable to release your grip on a lead.

            One of the important factors is the path of the electricity through your body – does it go through your heart, for instance? My understanding is that is why electricians checked for live circuits using two fingers on one hand. You might blow your fingers off, but it wouldn’t kill you unless you were standing barefoot in a saltwater tank. if you used one finger one each hand, then the path is through your chest, greatly increasing the risk of death.

            1. That’s basically what my Uncle Bud taught me — he’d worked for Western Electric and was a fountain of advice. Linemen have rules of thumb that can save those thumbs. Like: run the Hell away from any fallen power line. With non-GFI outlets and switches, don’t trust their grounding – in humid environments, use plastic screws to mount the cover plates. In damp environments, use double insulation, not grounded appliances. In wet environments, wear a rubber suit and carry a mechanical spear gun. Like I said, a fountain of advice.

            2. Uh, he probably said neoprene or something like it. I know he had done scuba diving, and bordered a flower garden with the abalone shells he collected. Aunt Mildred made necklaces from some of them. None of this is electrifying information..

      4. I presume most new buildings should have a special circuit protector that will save your life in this situation (or at least in my country it is compulsory). Wonder if he was in an old building or what. People would be well advised to have one fitted.

    1. MDN:

      I don’t see “death” listed in Apple’s warning. In other words, the warning is not strong enough and this is likely what the Coroner is after.

      Take a look at other products. Even hockey helmets list death on the warning sticker stuck onto each new helmet.

      1. Jumping out a building with your iPhone will cause death too, but no one puts that on a warning… I wonder why.

        Also, remember in Hong Kong, the lady who died this way. She was using a NON Apple charger. I suspect the same thing here, as Apple is pretty good about keeping high voltage away from the phone plug.

      2. Why should any product, used according to the simplest instructions, have to list death as a possible outcome of use?

        Should we start putting large signs along any street that clearly states stepping off the curb into the street can cause death? Then something even worse that lamented in the song “Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band would come to pass.

        Some things are just beyond stupid. If the guy had lived would his next step to be having breakfast in the tub (including having a plugged in toaster)?

      3. That’s because the Apple charger itself won’t kill. It’s the plug the adapter was plugged into that’s capable of killing being full-on wall current, especially if dropped into water you’re sitting in.

      1. He might know how to take a shower, but somehow I get this picture of him standing there with the extension cord draped over his shoulder with the brick plugged in. . . while he’s charging his iPhone, surfing the Internet, standing on the drain. He’s that stupid. . .

      1. Actually they only sell power supplies that plug into the wall plug. Computers, pads and phones plug into a power supply that is low voltage.

        Just saying.

        PS, remember to use. /s if its satirical.

          1. I can imaging a total idiot using an iMac in the bath. . . but it would be an INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH STUPID individual be the one to do climb into the bathtub with it.

            On the other hand, the case is completely grounded. Should be no problem, unless the idiot plugs it into an adaptor to use on a antique non-grounded receptacle and then doesn’t bother to connect the grounding screw on the adaptor.

      1. That’s the primary criterion. . . the candidate must have successfully removed his genes from the pool. Unsuccessful candidates are only eligible for honorable mention.

  1. “They should attach warnings. I intend to write a report later to the makers of the phone”

    The guy ran an extension from *outside* the bathroom in order to reach the bathtub. My sympathy only goes so far.

    1. The technical name is ‘hydrogen fuel cells’. Their danger, for those unaware, is any source of heat capable of igniting hydrogen, which can 💥EXPLODE💥 in the presence of sufficient oxygen, as is found in Earth’s atmosphere. The challenge of fuel cells is how to store the hydrogen such that only relatively tiny amounts of it is allowed to escape if its container becomes damaged.

      Think Hindenberg.

  2. Yeah, they need to put labels on pieces of fruit warning the consumer they could choke and die if the fruit is not eaten properly.

    Give me a break. Warning the user of electric shock should be sufficient. Your nanny isn’t always going to be there to catch you when you fall.

    Maybe require a sign on both sides of all doors warning people that walking through the door subjects them to dangers lurking on the other side which could lead to emotional trauma, physical harm and possibly death? Followed by the question, “BEWARE! Do you really want to face what is on the other side of this door?”

  3. It wasn’t the Apple iPhone or charger that was the problem. It appears he dropped the adapter attached to an extension cable into the water and was killed by the direct electricity coming from the wall to the end of the extension cable which dropped into the water. He could’ve had anything plugged into that cable and suffered the same result if the cable plug-in end had dropped into the water.

    NOT an Apple iPhone story but an incredibly stupid person story not respectable of the laws of physics and conductivity, not to mention personal safety. But it makes a better story if Apple is mentioned as if they’re to blame.

    1. absolutely agree… “the part between the phone charger and the cable had made contact with the water.'”

      Its scary the corner could not understand that. Maybe anyone can be a corner in England. 🙁

      1. “Its scary the corner could not understand that. Maybe anyone can be a corner in England”

        I’m not so sure, they do have to handle the edge cases… 😉

    2. The reason why he used an extension cord would have probably been that the only power outlet permitted in a bathroom by British Building Regulations is a shaver socket. A shaver socket has a two pin plug which is incompatible with British 3 pin plugs, but crucially the shaver socket must incorporate an isolation transformer and RCD breaker to protect the user in case the 230V live connection is inadvertently touched.

      The problem was not with the charger, but with the user running an extension cable into the bathroom.

      British wiring regulations are extremely strict for bathrooms and there are zoned areas demanding certain IP ratings according to the proximity of a fitting to a sink, shower or bath. Essentially, if you can reach it while touching water, any fixed electrical fitting needs to be fully enclosed, splashproof and only accessible using tools. As you move further away from the splash zone, regulations for lamp fittings are progressively eased ( referred to as Zones 0, 1 & 2 ), but all shaver sockets and fittings in bathrooms must be protected by RCD breakers, which trip the power if contact is made, but there are no circumstances where a conventional power socket is allowed within 3 metres of the Zone 1 area and even then it would need to be wired via an RCD breaker. Extension cards often come with warning labels saying that they must not be used in bathrooms or damp environments.

      The coroner was misguided to lay the blame with Apple. It was the extension cord that was being inappropriately used and it was the extension card that needed a warning from the manufacturer. If somebody insists on using an extension card in damp conditions, then they should use one with an integral RCD breaker. In simple terms, if he had used a £12 extension cord with an RCD instead of a simple £5 extension cord, he would not have been killed.

  4. Any IDIOT knows better than to do anything with electric power in a bath or wet environment. Regardless of the voltage. The charger and phone did not kill him. His decision killed him and the mains voltage and power capacity did. Even low voltage and current can also screw up bodily functions and cause severe injury or death due to the frequency – 60 Hz or in UK 50Hz. Etc.

  5. Read the article..

    “the part between the phone charger and the cable had made contact with the water.'”

    The extension cord female end was on his chest. No Apple issue at all, he had the EXTENSION cord in the bath. PERIOD.

    If he had left the charger on the floor, he would be fine …. for now.

    Norm

    1. They do incorporate fuses or circuit breakers into most of their electrical plugs. No country requires GFI tech on a point/outlet located in a dry hallway.

  6. This isn’t an iPhone problem as much as it’s a mains problem. Sure don’t put electronic devices in the bath, but the mains was in the bath too. Not an Apple problem. Might as well have been a hair dryer or a toaster.

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