When Guns are Outlawed, Only Outlaws will have iPhones

Pictures show Richard Bull always grinning, usually gripping his wife or dog, and often enough a beer. But he was a tough cat, known for being willing and able to play every position on a rugby side; and he liked his fun.

How does a guy like that get killed by a fragile, tiny smartphone? Turns out, the phone had some help — from mains AC current.

 Bull, 32, was discovered by his wife and had such severe burns to his chest, arm and hand she thought he had been attacked.

He is thought to have used an extension cord running into the bathroom from the hallway then rested the phone on his chest.

When it touched the water it electrocuted him, killing him, at his home in Ealing, West London.

Coroner Dr Sean Cummings, who recorded a verdict of accidental death, said: ‘These seem like innocuous devices but can be as dangerous as a hairdryer in a bathroom.

via Man died while charging his iPhone and using it in the bath in Ealing | Metro News.

What Britain, where guns are largely outlawed already, needs is some good common sense phone control safety measures. Not that it will do Bull any good.

Alternatively, we could explore the concept that the deodand is not to blame for the deed. But that’s crazy talk.

34 thoughts on “When Guns are Outlawed, Only Outlaws will have iPhones

  1. Loren

    Voltage in UK homes is 220 at the outlet. Phones still use 5 volts at a max of 1/2 amp. That’s 2.5 watts. He got zapped by the extension cord.

    1. Chris W.

      Current maximum amperage for charging most smartphones is now 2.1 amps, so that makes it 10.5 watts. Don’t know where you heard 1/2 amp. Still zapped by A/C though! You will pull more than 10.5 watts through your charger if it is plugged into an a/c outlet, but that is due to the loss inherent in converting from a/c to d/c. Kill-A-Watt meters are nice if you would like to know more about what your electrical items are using in the way of power.

  2. C.Harris

    I’m pretty sure that using an extension cord to charge your phone whilst in the bath should entitle the deceased to a Darwin award.

  3. Ken Wats

    I thought avoiding this kind of accident was the whole point of GFI outlets? Here in the Democratic Peoples Republic of New Jersey they are required.

    1. C.Harris

      In the UK having any kind of electrical outlet in a bathroom is pretty rare even including shaver sockets. I suspect in this is why he was using an extention, to get power from a socket in a bedroom/landing. Unless his home was a very recent new build it’s unlikely that any kind of GFI socket features anywhere in it.

      1. Hognose Post author

        Thanks for the reminder that GB has a totally different electrical system and code. In fact, what this guy did would be just as dumb from the sockets in a North American bathroom; 120’ll kill you as dead as 240, and most older homes don’t have the GFCI sockets.

    2. Hognose Post author

      I think they’re required everywhere in new construction, but this mishap was in England, where most of the housing stock is older. Also, even here, we have older homes. People have been building homes in my New Hampshire town since 1623 (although that one does not survive. Indians).

    3. Scott

      A couple of GFCI related points:

      1. The outlets are around $15 (depending), so they aren’t nearly as inexpensive as standard outlets.

      2. You can get GFCI circuit breakers ($43-ish, depending) which protect a whole circuit. (Break-even is thus around 3 outlets, but see #3 below.)

      3. Depending on the wiring, installing a GFCI outlet can provide protection for subsequent outlets.

      4. If the GFCI outlet you are installing does have subsequent outlets, make sure you don’t screw up the ‘line’ and ‘load’ sides when wiring it. If you do, you won’t get squat in that outlet nor the outlets downstream. (In my house, I screwed one up like that and a professional electrician screwed up another.) Easy to reverse if you muff it, but it’s confusing at first.

      5. New construction must have GFCI protection in bathrooms and kitchen with dedicated circuits. (Kitchen is more complicated.)

      6. There are arc-fault circuit breakers available as well (and required in not a small number of cases in construction that must conform to code).

      A lot of the new electrical building code seems hellbent on avoiding the use of extension cords. Like everything else, it’s a bit over the top, but in general, extension cords are invitations to trouble.

      I wonder if his wife got shocked (literally) when she found him. If the circuit breaker didn’t blow, one can imagine her touching him and the water and getting zapped as well.

      Side note: I can’t remember the last time I actually took a bath. Never been tempted to listen to music in the shower.

      1. Steve M.


        As to your point #4, I’m guilty of doing the same. The current GFCI outlets are pretty nice in that they don’t work/reset if wired wrong.

        Perhaps the real killer here is taking a bath. The bathtub is merely the place I stand while showering. I almost want to say something like real men take showers, not baths. However, that’s probably not a good idea.

      2. John Distai

        I believe current code requires new work to have AFCI breakers. From what I understand, some different wiring practices are required to wire a new house correctly in order to prevent nuisance tripping.

  4. archy

    Not precisely related, but sort of. A pal of mine loyal to one particular flavour of smartphone through several generations of versions met up with me at a local burger joint, and was sporting a new belt carrier pouch not quite like his previous ones. *New I-phone?* inquires me. *Nope!,* he replies. *I-Shoot!*
    Turned out he had one of those little phone carrier-looking holsters for his baby Ruger. Haven’t yet decided whether or not I like it, but the magnetic cover flap seems chintzy. I do like his name for it tho.

  5. Steve M.

    As Ken W. already pointed out, GFCI outlets save lives. They should be installed near any water source in the home and in any exterior locations. They are not hard to install and for twenty bucks they are cheap insurance.

    Despite the massive difference in risk between working on high voltage electrical systems, 13.8kv and up, and the common household 110/220 electrical system, the death rate is nearly the same. There are less people exposed to high voltage systems, but the margin for error is effectively zero. The lower voltage systems are for more prevalent and many times more forgiving, however lax behaviors prevail in maintaining nearly equal body counts.

    It’s all connected people. The creepy guy following you, your vehicle’s tire pressure, and GFCI outlets, they are all part of what is more broadly known as personal responsibility. Wait! I should keep it weapons related and call it situational awareness.

    1. John McG

      I’m a lineman. Recently had a guy take 9000 volts in through his hand and then exited upper thigh. Walked away and spent a few days in the burn unit getting entry and exit wounds treated.
      Like my sainted Mother says, “If you’re born to hang, you’ll never drown.”
      All the best.

      1. Kirk

        Electricity is a finicky killer. Guy I know was an apprentice electrician on one of the dams up here, and he did something amazingly stupid one day, on a main feed line coming from the generators. The details of which I never understood, but apparently he somehow survived being a field-expedient conductor of some unGodly amount of voltage and ampherage, which they think passed around, not through his body, because it essentially melted everything he was wearing, and didn’t kill his ass. The investigator later determined that he should have been a carbonized husk, but for whatever reason, he walked away from that incident alive.

        Dude sells car insurance now…

  6. SAM

    I love these lines – Coroner Dr Sean Cummings, who recorded a verdict of accidental death, 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.’ – so the Coroner wants a warning added to the box saying do not charge in the bath. I would say any one so dumb that they think that’s OK will never read any warning. How big a box will it need to put a warning for everything anyone can do wrong?

    1. Aesop

      They have such safe spaces.
      Individually, it usually measures 8’x10′, more or less.
      They’re known universally as “prisons”.
      Unfortunately there, the problem is the other prisoners.

    2. C.Harris

      IIRC there is already a warning about attempting to charge when wet/near on the latest “waterproof” phones, on the Samsung ones anyway. Heck mine won’t even attempt to charge if it detects a hint of moisture in the charging/USB port.

      I like to think I have a healthy respect for electricity but I’ve managed to shock myself a few times at work doing things that on reflection were rather stupid.

  7. nick

    Ok,I have to ask since no one else has, but was probably thinking it.
    Was the guy watching pOrn while in the tub with a slippery bar of soap?

    1. Quill_&_Blade

      Sort-of, with a little rearrangement. I’m wondering if this was a case of “Yeah, I know it’s risky, but if I’m careful, I can get away with it; done it before”. So he’s getting too comfortable with the practice, then the bar of soap zips away, he instinctively chases it, forgetting that he’s in a dangerous arrangement…
      That “I can get away with it” bit is similar to “I can handle it.” I’m wondering if that’s the mantra of guys that ruin their lives with p0rn or drink. Four very dangerous words. On a related note, there’s a book, do_not_ ask_why I bought it. Wait, it was curiosity, yeah, that’s it; there was a picture of a steam locomotive on its side on the cover, just had to know what it was about. The book is called “The logic of failure”. Written by a German guy, Dietric Dornier (sp?) The main point of the book is how big catastrophes don’t happen by blind accident, but rather, by people prioritizing wrong things. He examines the Chernoble disaster. It happened because a crack team of safety inspectors was in a hurry to finish the inspection prior to the big May Day holiday. So, as the often did, they intentionally bypassed the safety systems, to speed things up. While they doing something else, unnoticed to them, the cooling rods got too hot to reinsert into their tubes, and, “the rest is history”.
      But I bought the book for stories like that, yeah, that’s it.

      1. Kirk

        Thank you for that pointer… It is interesting that it’s only available electronically as an eTextbook, so I have to presume that it’s required reading somewhere in an Engineering course…

        1. Quill_&_Blade

          I bought mine from the now defunct Lindsey Publications. Does anyone remember them? Lots of unusual books, machinist’s guides from 1905, blacksmith’s books, build your own machine shop from scratch, government pamphlet of tanning hides, run a car on producer gas, lots of cool unusual stuff. Some guy was supposed to be taking over with an online version. Will do a search…

      2. John Distai

        I was given that as a gift a decade ago. I haven’t read it. Now I must. I hope I didn’t get rid of it.

      3. John Distai

        “Normal Accidents” is another worth reading, as are “Set Phasers on Stun”, and “The Atomic Chef”.

  8. Bill Robbins

    Brings to mind Jonathan Swift’s first major satire, “A Tale of a Tub,” written 1694-97, in which he satirizes all things English. The incident you describe has all the trappings of a Monty Python skit: The Shocking Case of Bath Man’s Last Bath.

  9. Keith

    10 years ago when I had a short term job at a local power plant update construction site the power company had us watch a video on electricity, the snake in the grass. Emphasis was on the local line worker who had been doing the job 15 years. One day was up working on the things on a pole. Had a finicky part to work on. Took his gloves off and ZAP!

    Keep your powder dry, follow all safety procedures every damn time!, and your faith in God.

  10. Kirk

    I really, really hope that when I go, I don’t get a write-up here on Weaponsman.

    The amount of stupid shit that the average person does, all unknowingly, is utterly astounding. Sometimes, the only thing between you and a full-scale laugh-a-thon on the Darwin Award page is sheerest dumb luck.

    Although I laugh at these guys, along with the rest of us, there’s always that thought in the back of my head “There, but for the Grace of God, might have gone I…”. ‘Cos, I’ve done some really poorly thought-through things, over the years, that might have gone all pear-shaped on me. Some of that stuff was done in ignorance, not really understanding what I was doing as I did it, and only in retrospect do I look back in horror at the potentialities involved. Off the top of my head, I can think of about a dozen times where I should have died, but narrowly escaped the consequences. Couple of times, I didn’t even recognize what I’d done at the time, and it is only with the advantage of years of later experience that I can look back with a sense of horror, and go “Damn… What the hell was I thinking…?”.

    Ah, well–If nothing else, every death has a purpose, if only to serve as a bad example to others.

    1. John M.

      God looks after fools, drunks and little children. And, one hopes, the likes of us.

      -John M.

  11. Drew Wood

    the amount of dodgy chargers probably has a direct effect. there is supposed to be a complete magnetic separation between the high voltage (and high current/power) AC side and the low voltage (with low death potential) DC side. some of the designs i’ve seen examined actually have the dc jack energized with AC mains!

    some of even the better usb chargers can also fail in catastrophic ways that can bridge the separation. the highly compact transformers they are using now have the primary and secondary winding around the same bobbins, and any damage to the insulation can bridge the separation in even the best designed adapters.

  12. Mike_C

    >In the UK having any kind of electrical outlet in a bathroom is pretty rare
    Hereabouts the Hub of the Universe (Boston) we often have the strange phenomenon of power outlets in the bathroom, but the overhead-light switch outside the door. This makes no sense to me, but then there are many things out here that make little sense to this midwestern boy.

    RIP Richard Bull. Riffing off of something one of my college engineering professors noted, you can tell “who is which ‘E’ in the IEEE.” IEEE=Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. The former are concerned with wrangling the actual big voltage and currents and suchlike as electricity while the latter electronics guys deal with electricity as information in safe(ish) 5V or less. So the first-E guys work with one hand (so as to not create a path for an arc across your chest in the event of a mishap) while the second-E guys have both hands on whatever they’re messing with. Oh, incidentally, the above mentioned engineering professor died of alcoholism, not electrocution.

    Unsafe at any speed.

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