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Exploding Samsung phones may be banned from a hospital near you


April 28, 2017

Regulatory agencies encourage hospitals to rethink security and safety policies about dangerous device

You can add cell phones to the list of things in hospitals that cause fires.

In light of news that the batteries in the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 cell phone can explode and cause major fires, some major hospital advocacy and regulation groups are asking hospitals to take a serious look at whether the devices should be allowed in their facilities.

The American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE), the American Hospital Association (AHA), and the American Society for Healthcare Risk Management (ASHRM), three prominent U.S. healthcare regulatory watchdogs, are urging healthcare facilities to review current policies in light of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 recall.

In a statement released in December 2016, they say a risk assessment should be conducted to determine possible restrictions or communications to patients, staff, and visitors about the phones, which have been recalled after reports of overheating.

“With patients incapable of self-preservation, hospitals must work diligently to minimize the chance of fire,” according to the statement. “Although Samsung indicates that only 0.01 percent of the more than 2 million devices are impacted by the defect, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 has the potential to increase the risk of fire. Health care organizations should review current fire safety measures and conduct a risk assessment to determine appropriate next steps regarding the Samsung Galaxy Note 7—including possible restrictions or communications to patients, staff and visitors.”

It’s the latest setback for the cell phone manufacturer, and the healthcare recommendations come after several U.S. consumer safety agencies, including the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in late September 2016 sent out an advisory urging customers to power down and stop using the Note 7 right away. That advisory was soon followed up by the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Association, which in October issued a ban of the device on all flights until defects could be fixed. News reports indicated that anyone caught trying to fly in a passenger plane with a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 could have their phone confiscated and face fines or criminal prosecution for trying to stash their Note 7 phones in checked luggage to avoid getting caught.

Some hospitals have decided to follow the advice of the regulators and ban the Note 7 from their facilities. According to a report from WTUZ-TV, the administration at Union Hospital in Philadelphia, Ohio decided it was better to be safe than sorry.

Union Hospital Community Relations Director Carey Gardner told the station that after reviewing policies and the consumer alerts, the hospital decided that as a safety precaution for patients and staff, the ban would be initiated, restricting patients, employees, and visitors from bringing the cell phone into the building. A notice was posted at the hospital’s entrances, website, and social media.

The concern about the Samsung Note 7 is the latest of several fire dangers from electronic devices that hospitals have struggled with in recent years. Safety coordinators have long worried about the possibility of Lithium-ion batteries in laptop computers and other commonly used devices in hospitals overheating and exploding. An increasing number of devices are being made portable and wireless, and with that convenience comes a danger of fire. Experts say that certain batteries, such as the lithium-ion batteries found in laptop computers, can explode with great force.

“While there are not a lot of news reports on this issue, when a lithium-ion battery fails, it has the potential of exploding. We had a laptop explode; fortunately, it was not being carried when it happened,” says Bruce Cunha, RN, MS, COHNS, former manager of employee health safety at the Marshfield (Wisconsin) Clinic. "Make employees aware that if a battery device starts smoking, [they should] get away from it immediately.”

Officials believe lithium batteries may be to blame for a fire that started at a hospital in Sayre, Pennsylvania on July 17, 2016, according to a report from WNEP-TV.

The fire at Guthrie Robert Packer Hospital started in the manager's office on the fifth floor, and may have started with a box of lithium batteries used to power various hospital equipment, the report said.
In March 2014, a patient on oxygen was burned in a fire at a Syracuse, New York, hospital after an electronic cigarette exploded.

In that fire, the unidentified patient suffered second- and third-degree burns. The patient apparently told investigators that she had pressed a button on the device, heard a pop, and then realized she had caught fire.

Electronic cigarettes contain a battery-operated heating element, and a replaceable cartridge filled with liquid nicotine or other chemicals that when heated converts the contents of the cartridge into a vapor. Although considered safer than regular cigarettes, there have been a small number of cases in which the devices have exploded because the batteries were overcharged or put in wrong.

And in what was considered a fluke of an accident, a fire in February 2012 at Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland, Oregon, left a 12-year-old girl with third-degree burns over a fifth of her body. The girl, who was in the hospital for kidney cancer treatment, reportedly used hand sanitizer to clean a table and olive oil to remove glue residue from leads stuck to her head. She rubbed the plastic mattress she was lying on and the vapors from the sanitizer caught fire and were fed by the oil in her hair and on her shirt.

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