Author Topic: Electrocution via Earbuds?!?! Reports of death from multiple sources.  (Read 1983 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline PhiltheHorror

  • Newbie
  • Posts: 2
Hi all,
I read an article today about multiple cases that some unlucky folks got electrocuted from their earbuds. Yes, their earbuds!

I'll link the article below, but it seems this has happened multiple times in multiple different countries, including one case in Australia. All the unfortunate victims were using their ear buds on a mobile phone while charging via mains power. 

Anyone know more about this or any of these cases? With all the super dodgy mobile phone power supplies out there, is it possible this could be more of a problem?

Here's the source article: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/pa5mng/a-16-year-old-has-died-after-being-electrocuted-by-his-headphones
 

Offline JackJones

  • Regular Contributor
  • *
  • Posts: 77
  • Country: fi
Re: Electrocution via Earbuds?!?! Reports of death from multiple sources.
« Reply #1 on: December 11, 2018, 07:22:24 pm »
Quote
"We know absolutely that the charger itself failed, and that it arced between the 240 volt input and the five volt output. So that's definitive," said Lynelle Collins of NSW Fair Trading. "We've got photos; we've got proof that's been dismantled, so we know that the charger failed.”

Investigations ascertained that the charger in question was not compliant with Australian standards, and Fair Trading Commissioner Rod Stowe issued a warning about the inherent dangers of using non-approved products.

I knew this was the case before even reading the article.

A properly made charger from a reliable manufacturer should not have faults like this. There are some seriously dodgy power supplies out there, it's just not worth buying unknown rubbish from unknown manufacturers or sellers.

Some of the 5V supplies even use a capacitive dropper. That means no isolation between low voltage and mains, no good at all.
 

Online bd139

  • Super Contributor
  • ***
  • Posts: 8295
  • Country: gb
Re: Electrocution via Earbuds?!?! Reports of death from multiple sources.
« Reply #2 on: December 11, 2018, 09:19:05 pm »
Yeah there are some horrors out there.

I think the worst thing I saw was a hooky NiMh charger my father bought which blew up. When I dismantled it, the live terminal had broken off the PCB and was floating around. 4mm to the left it hit neutral and went bang. If it had gone 4mm to the right it would have hit the ground plane on the board and applied mains potential on the negative terminal of the batteries. Dead user.  :--

 

Offline PhiltheHorror

  • Newbie
  • Posts: 2
Re: Electrocution via Earbuds?!?! Reports of death from multiple sources.
« Reply #3 on: December 12, 2018, 06:42:31 am »
Incredibly scary considering how commonplace these bullshit power supplies are (atleast here in the US). Every corner store and gas station has a pile of them.
 
The following users thanked this post: Mojo1961

Offline rsjsouza

  • Super Contributor
  • ***
  • Posts: 2802
  • Country: us
    • Vbe - vídeo blog eletrônico
Re: Electrocution via Earbuds?!?! Reports of death from multiple sources.
« Reply #4 on: December 12, 2018, 06:52:03 am »
From time to time I throw some of these BS chargers in the trash. I tend to keep my "official" chargers at hand (Amazon, Samsung, LG, etc.).

Years ago my dad bought one of these tactical flashlights with a 18650 battery and a charger. The flashlight itself was fine, but the battery was cheap and the charger was a simple resistor between the 5V and the battery. The plugpack was equally cheap, with a loose solder blob inside. I bought an Nitecore intellicharger for me and for my dad.
Vbe - vídeo blog eletrônico http://videos.vbeletronico.com

Oh, the "whys" of the datasheets... The information is there not to be an axiomatic truth, but instead each speck of data must be slowly inhaled while carefully performing a deep search inside oneself to find the true metaphysical sense...
 

Offline ucanel

  • Contributor
  • Posts: 35
  • Country: tr
Re: Electrocution via Earbuds?!?! Reports of death from multiple sources.
« Reply #5 on: December 12, 2018, 07:24:41 am »
Some dodgy chargers have no isolation between
primary and secondary of the transformer
other than the micron thick cable coating.
The channel below has most of this kind of tear downs and schematics.
« Last Edit: December 12, 2018, 07:26:33 am by ucanel »
 
The following users thanked this post: wraper

Offline ebastler

  • Super Contributor
  • ***
  • Posts: 2228
  • Country: de
Re: Electrocution via Earbuds?!?! Reports of death from multiple sources.
« Reply #6 on: December 12, 2018, 07:52:39 am »
I can see how a cheap, crappy power supply could arc over, and send mains voltage to the 5V output. But all the earbuds I have seen are plasticky affairs, which don't put the user in contact with any metal parts when worn. And larger headphones have ear pads made of non-conducting material.

So I struggle to see how the headphones would electrocute you, even with main voltage routed to them?
 

Offline Kleinstein

  • Super Contributor
  • ***
  • Posts: 5099
  • Country: de
Re: Electrocution via Earbuds?!?! Reports of death from multiple sources.
« Reply #7 on: December 12, 2018, 08:02:52 am »
Not a real surprise given the poor USB chargers one sometimes finds. Though not everything was better in the old days: I once too apart an old black and white TV set, and to my surprise there was no visible isolation for the head phone jacket and not isolation for the circuit from ground (which was common back than). So I luckily never used head phones.

I have not seen a bad charger in real life, but some of the videos on the web a really scary - up to the point of having a common heat sink for primary and secondary with no insulation - so essentially on the oxide layer an the aluminum as a poor contact.

So they should include the warning of no using head phones while charging, unless one has properly isolated ear plugs.
 

Offline cdev

  • Super Contributor
  • ***
  • Posts: 5074
  • Country: 00
Re: Electrocution via Earbuds?!?! Reports of death from multiple sources.
« Reply #8 on: December 12, 2018, 08:07:20 am »
Companies that make and sell obviously dangerous chargers should have to compensate the victims of their stupidity no matter where they are, the victims are, or how little the charger was sold for.

"What the large print giveth, the small print taketh away."
 

Offline Gyro

  • Super Contributor
  • ***
  • Posts: 3778
  • Country: gb
Re: Electrocution via Earbuds?!?! Reports of death from multiple sources.
« Reply #9 on: December 12, 2018, 08:09:36 am »
I can see how a cheap, crappy power supply could arc over, and send mains voltage to the 5V output. But all the earbuds I have seen are plasticky affairs, which don't put the user in contact with any metal parts when worn. And larger headphones have ear pads made of non-conducting material.

So I struggle to see how the headphones would electrocute you, even with main voltage routed to them?

I agree, it does sound unlikely that plastic earbuds, what with silicone tips or whatever would break down to the body at mains voltage. At a few kV, yes. Maybe surface moisture would drop the insulation resistance a bit but it still sound fishy.

Deathtrap chargers / adapters of course are now sadly a fact of life. EDIT: maybe modern cheap earbuds are equally crappy.
« Last Edit: December 12, 2018, 08:12:44 am by Gyro »
"Victor Meldrew, the Crimson Avenger!"
 

Offline cdev

  • Super Contributor
  • ***
  • Posts: 5074
  • Country: 00
Re: Electrocution via Earbuds?!?! Reports of death from multiple sources.
« Reply #10 on: December 12, 2018, 08:21:49 am »
Before they break completely, sometimes the 'shield' conductor of crappy headphones gets exposed. This almost always happens at one of the two ends.

For people that have some decent electrical tape around, who know how to use it, (stretch it first) they can sometimes be repaired and last a bit longer.

But no way should mains voltage ever be allowed to become present there!
"What the large print giveth, the small print taketh away."
 

Offline rsjsouza

  • Super Contributor
  • ***
  • Posts: 2802
  • Country: us
    • Vbe - vídeo blog eletrônico
Re: Electrocution via Earbuds?!?! Reports of death from multiple sources.
« Reply #11 on: December 12, 2018, 08:23:41 am »
I can imagine this is quite plausible; I have earbuds that have a wide exposed metal area touching the skin. That and the possibility of having frayed cables.

Regardless of the quality of the charger, I imagine it would be very dangerous to be exposed to a metal part in the scenario below (extracted from the article)
Then, a month later, a 22-year-old man in the Indian village of Pandyo was listening to music from a plugged-in cell phone while the electricity in his house was cut off. When the power came back online, the man received an electric shock through his headphones and was also killed, NDTV reported.

The transient surge can be quite unpredictable in these scenarios. 
Vbe - vídeo blog eletrônico http://videos.vbeletronico.com

Oh, the "whys" of the datasheets... The information is there not to be an axiomatic truth, but instead each speck of data must be slowly inhaled while carefully performing a deep search inside oneself to find the true metaphysical sense...
 

Offline MrMobodies

  • Frequent Contributor
  • **
  • Posts: 380
  • Country: gb
Re: Electrocution via Earbuds?!?! Reports of death from multiple sources.
« Reply #12 on: December 12, 2018, 08:31:42 am »
I came across a cheap usb charger that was bundled with some cheap noname MP5 players that a customer got from Ebay.

One of the USB chargers worked initially but stopped working and the one of players didn't power up. When I tested the other charger that did work it couldn't even handle a 400mah load without dropping to 2 - 2.4v and it kept on spiking over 6v with no load. It was cheap and light and told them throw it in the bin and you think that is cheap and nasty but what about the safety of the batteries inside those MP5 players.
 

Offline ebastler

  • Super Contributor
  • ***
  • Posts: 2228
  • Country: de
Re: Electrocution via Earbuds?!?! Reports of death from multiple sources.
« Reply #13 on: December 12, 2018, 09:00:35 am »
So that's why Apple in their inifinite wisdom dropped the standard headphone jack.  :P
Only a single proprietary connector, and you get the choice to either connect a charger, or connect your headphones. Safe at last!  ::)
 

Offline MrMobodies

  • Frequent Contributor
  • **
  • Posts: 380
  • Country: gb
Re: Electrocution via Earbuds?!?! Reports of death from multiple sources.
« Reply #14 on: December 12, 2018, 09:14:06 am »
So that's why Apple in their inifinite wisdom dropped the standard headphone jack.  :P
Only a single proprietary connector, and you get the choice to either connect a charger, or connect your headphones. Safe at last!  ::)

And you get this:
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-39307418
Quote
Mr Bull is believed to have plugged his charger into an extension cord from the hallway and rested it on his chest while using the phone, the Sun reports.

Resting a charger on his chest in the bath so he can use his phone and he got grounded to earth.
 

Online bd139

  • Super Contributor
  • ***
  • Posts: 8295
  • Country: gb
Re: Electrocution via Earbuds?!?! Reports of death from multiple sources.
« Reply #15 on: December 12, 2018, 09:16:21 am »
All health and safety rules come from someone dying or getting mutilated. If you fail to heed the warning then you’re a dumbass. That guy was a dumbass.
 

Offline GregDunn

  • Frequent Contributor
  • **
  • Posts: 496
  • Country: us
Re: Electrocution via Earbuds?!?! Reports of death from multiple sources.
« Reply #16 on: December 17, 2018, 11:41:06 am »
Not a real surprise given the poor USB chargers one sometimes finds. Though not everything was better in the old days: I once too apart an old black and white TV set, and to my surprise there was no visible isolation for the head phone jacket and not isolation for the circuit from ground (which was common back than). So I luckily never used head phones.

One of the very first pieces of electronics I worked with was a pair of tube amplifiers which I set up as a dual-mono "stereo" rig.  I'd been given the amps for free as well as a discarded turntable.  All I had to do was build a pair of speakers and I was in business.

Many cheap old pieces of vacuum tube gear were powered directly from the mains without a primary transformer of any kind - the idea being that they were intended to be isolated inside a big hunk of wooden cabinetry and couldn't possibly come in contact with the user.  Of course, having liberated them I placed them on a shelf side by side.  It was critical to ensure that the chassis side was connected to electrical ground on both amps!  That way the "hot" side was inaccessible.  (Isolation transformers would have cost more than a decent stereo in that place and time)  Very few people in that town had neutral wiring in their houses  back then, so if you didn't know what you were doing you didn't fool around with mains wiring.  I didn't let anyone - not even my parents - touch my gear when it was plugged in because I knew Murphy was waiting to teach someone a lesson.
 
The following users thanked this post: Mojo1961

Online EEVblog

  • Administrator
  • *****
  • Posts: 27664
  • Country: au
    • EEVblog
Re: Electrocution via Earbuds?!?! Reports of death from multiple sources.
« Reply #17 on: December 17, 2018, 08:56:56 pm »
I was was contacted by a researcher from Snopes about this story, wanted to know if it was possible.
 

Offline amyk

  • Super Contributor
  • ***
  • Posts: 5982
Re: Electrocution via Earbuds?!?! Reports of death from multiple sources.
« Reply #18 on: December 18, 2018, 12:19:43 am »
Resting a charger on his chest in the bath so he can use his phone and he got grounded to earth.
Not the first time that has happened... http://www.eevblog.com/forum/chat/is-this-really-likely/
 

Offline GeoffreyF

  • Regular Contributor
  • *
  • Posts: 180
  • Country: us
Re: Electrocution via Earbuds?!?! Reports of death from multiple sources.
« Reply #19 on: December 18, 2018, 02:17:06 am »
Well designed chargers, with spark gaps in the PCB and the low voltage part well separated from the mains, are designed to withstand surges which could far exceed normal.  I can believe a surge which wouldn't jump a proper spark gap could continue into the earphones with enough energy to electrocute someone, especially in the ear canal with a good path to the brain.

Plastic doesn't mean a thing if there is high voltage in the wiring.
 

Offline SiliconWizard

  • Super Contributor
  • ***
  • Posts: 1459
  • Country: fr
Re: Electrocution via Earbuds?!?! Reports of death from multiple sources.
« Reply #20 on: December 18, 2018, 02:40:25 am »
Actually, many seemingly "harmless" electrical devices out there which are meant to be in direct contact with the user's skin (and especially for extended amounts of time) are completely unsafe as soon as you use them while powered by mains adapters. Even if that sounds excessive, I guess that we could somehow consider that such devices should comply to safety rules close to the ones used for medical devices. Earbuds being close to the brain and some probably with lowish contact impedance (if they are conductive) due to ear canal sweating, you have a recipe for something potentially interesting. >:D

Obviously in the case of using a device as in the earbuds example, powered by its charger connected to mains, that can be almost equivalent to plugging the charger's output itself directly into your ear canals in case there is a fault with the charger and insufficient insulation with the rest of the device. Many cheap chargers/mains adapters are complete crap, and some earbuds are actually slightly conductive. Problem is, a lot of them aren't actually properly tested before being put on the market.

A few decent manufacturers have taken steps to drastically limit the risk (for instance by making it impossible to use earbuds and a charger at the same time), but a lot haven't. And stating in the manual that it could be hazardous... well. How many people actually read manuals?
 

Offline ebastler

  • Super Contributor
  • ***
  • Posts: 2228
  • Country: de
Re: Electrocution via Earbuds?!?! Reports of death from multiple sources.
« Reply #21 on: December 18, 2018, 06:52:42 am »
Plastic doesn't mean a thing if there is high voltage in the wiring.

I would argue that it depends a lot on the level of the voltage and the thickness of the plastic.
But your sweeping statement sounds much more manly, of course.  8)
 

Offline floobydust

  • Super Contributor
  • ***
  • Posts: 2043
  • Country: ca
Re: Electrocution via Earbuds?!?! Reports of death from multiple sources.
« Reply #22 on: December 18, 2018, 07:04:56 am »
We don't know the safety limits for shock current at the human ears. The brain does control the heart to some extent. Shock current is known across the hands, chest etc. for heart muscles to get directly affected at 50/60Hz.

But these chargers can also output high voltage spikes at >50kHz (mosfet drain coupled to secondary) which have capacitive currents that would electrocute.

Here the electrocution path might be from ear to hand, although earbuds are plastic and somewhat insulated so I am a bit skeptical.

Electroshock therapy is 600-900mA across the temples- a totally different path.

edit: looked at ECT
« Last Edit: December 20, 2018, 08:59:09 am by floobydust »
 

Offline dunkemhigh

  • Super Contributor
  • ***
  • Posts: 1224
Re: Electrocution via Earbuds?!?! Reports of death from multiple sources.
« Reply #23 on: December 18, 2018, 12:43:56 pm »
I was was contacted by a researcher from Snopes about this story, wanted to know if it was possible.

And...?

!!BUSTED!! video coming? I'm sure your assistant could act as a test subject  >:D
 

Offline aabbcc

  • Regular Contributor
  • *
  • Posts: 50
  • Country: se
Re: Electrocution via Earbuds?!?! Reports of death from multiple sources.
« Reply #24 on: December 21, 2018, 10:21:00 pm »
I can see how a cheap, crappy power supply could arc over, and send mains voltage to the 5V output. But all the earbuds I have seen are plasticky affairs, which don't put the user in contact with any metal parts when worn. And larger headphones have ear pads made of non-conducting material.

So I struggle to see how the headphones would electrocute you, even with main voltage routed to them?

Mine are metal albeit with rubbe ear pads

 


Share me

Digg  Facebook  SlashDot  Delicious  Technorati  Twitter  Google  Yahoo
Smf