Dolly Doctor

Danger dialling

When it comes to your mobile, there’s more to worry about than a big bill.

Phone dangers

Each night, 14-year-old Lara plugs her phone into its charger, tucks herself into bed and scrolls Instagram while saying goodnight to her boyfriend on speaker. “I love it, I can’t not check my phone before bedtime,” she says. “I then plug it in and pop it under my pillow. When I wake up, I’ll admit it’s the first thing I look at.” If this sounds like your common bedtime ritual, keep reading, there’s a few things about your smartphone we want you to know.

What's the danger?

Earlier this year, a tragic accident involving a dodgy USB mobile phone charger claimed the life of a young woman in NSW. Like any of us, she was wearing headphones and simultaneously holding her laptop. Moments later, she was electrocuted. It’s not the nicest way to get you thinking about mobile phone safety, but we’ve taken the warning seriously. “Using unsafe or unapproved chargers may result in electrocution or the risk of an electrical fire,” says NSW Fair Trading Minister Matthew Mason-Cox. “Dodgy goods can also be simply unreliable – meaning they don’t properly charge your phone or device – or they may malfunction, causing damage to your phone or device.”

Warning signs

“If a mobile device is broken, not working properly or it feels like it’s getting hot when it charges, get it checked out by a phone specialist to see if it needs to be repaired or replaced,” Matthew says. Don’t forget mobile devices are electrical – if they’re not in good repair or are used in an unsafe manner they can be dangerous, especially when plugged into an electrical power supply. “If a device has problems, it can lead to shorting or battery malfunction which could occasionally lead to an electrical spark or fire,” he explains.

Throw it out

If you’re disposing of something like a phone charger that you think is dodgy, Fair Trading recommends that you unplug the charger and bend the pins so that no-one else can use it. “You can also cut the cord (when it’s unplugged) to make sure no-one else can use it,” says Matthew. “Be aware that the disposal of batteries may have specific requirements due to some of the chemicals and materials used in them.” You can usually get good advice on disposing of household items from your local council.

Is mobile radiation a thing?

When you make a phone call your phone uses radiofrequency (RF) radiation via its antenna to transmit to a nearby base station, then through a landline to make your call. If RF radiation is high enough, it has a ‘thermal’ effect which can raise our body temperature. Radiation is part of everyday life and is emitted through natural sources like the sun, as well as artificial sources like your phone.

Is it safe?

Both Better Health Channel (betterhealth.vic.gov.au) and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) say that intensive international research has been done and found there’s no conclusive or convincing evidence your mobile phone is a health risk, either in the short or long term. But what happens when you sleep with the phone next to your head like Lara? While there’s no concrete risks of radiation, if you’re really worried about RT, pop your phone on aeroplane mode overnight and charge it at a power point that’s further away from your bed. Sleeping with your phone under your pillow is a fire risk if you’re using a dodgy charger too, so play it safe by leaving it on your bedside table.

How to keep your RF down

If you’re still worried, follow Better Health Channel’s tips for reducing your exposure to mobile radiation.

  1. Keep your calls short.
  2. Don’t carry it close to your body when it’s on.
  3. Don’t buy into claims about protective shields for reducing exposure (sometimes it increases RF).
  4. Choose a mobile phone model with low specific absorption rate (the amount of RF radiation absorbed by our body).

Words by Danielle Pinkus.