Blame the smartphone: Injuries pile up, from cat bites to shocks to broken bones

An examination of emergency room reports to Consumer Product Safety Commission tells a hurtful story of people and their smartphones

Blame the smartphone: Injuries pile up, from cat bites to shocks to broken bones
Credit: Thinkstock/Wikimedia/Steve

We've all become aware of the dangers that drivers preoccupied with their cellphones cause on the roads and most have also probably seen plenty of "pedtextrians” endangering themselves by paying way more attention to their smartphones than their surroundings.

But phone-related injuries go way beyond these two scenarios -- we're talking everything from ringing phones that supposedly scare dogs and cats into biting people to people being really dumb (and gross) about where they stick their smartphones.

Network World has examined the most recent batch of U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission data, collected from about 100 hospitals reporting emergency room visits into the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (you can view full spreadsheet at bottom of this article). NEISS is used to help spot possible issues with categories of products that are causing harm.

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While NEISS doesn't identify specific product brands, such as an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy Android phone, it does include a general product code for both cellular phones and landline varieties. A search on that product code turned up 523 injury reports in 2014, the most recent year for which data is available available (injury counts gradually rose over the previous few years). And while some of the descriptions of injuries are cryptic, you can get the general picture -- and it ain't pretty.

If you're the kind of person who finds those segments on people getting wrecked on America's Funniest Home Videos, this info is for you. And if that form of entertainment is beneath you, this data at least delivers a pretty good cautionary tale. To keep all of you from bawling your eyes out, I'll avoid focusing on injuries of the very young and very old, though I should warn grandmothers to watch out for little kids throwing cellphones at you, as there were at least two grandmas who visited the ER after being struck.

Looking at other demographics, 220 male patients are listed versus 303 female ones. Nearly half of the patients were 25 year old or younger and about 20 percent were 65 years old or older.

Beware pedextrians

More than 40 of the injuries reported had to do with people fussing with their phones in the car. And while texting and other phone-related driving distractions are a huge issue, so too is distracted walk/running/cycling.

"While distracted driving accidents are definitely the far more common of the two, the latter has been underreported and under-studied," says Chris Price, a partner at personal injury law firm Ashton & Price. 

"Something that I think pretty aptly sums up the current situation with cellphone use is that Steven Wozniak, who developed the first Apple computer, stated in a recent interview that 'When we started Apple, Steve Jobs and I talked about how we wanted to make blind people as equal and capable as sighted people, and you'd have to say we succeeded when you look at all the people walking down the sidewalk looking down at something in their hands and totally oblivious to everything around them!'"

To Price's earlier point, there actually has been serious research conducted on the dangers of walking while texting, a combo that can lead to falls and worse, such as getting hit by a moving vehicle. Researchers at Ohio State University found in 2013, for example, that the number of injuries among pedestrians distracted by cellphones doubled between 2005 and 2010 and published their work in a journal dubbed Accident Analysis and Prevention.

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Among the injuries reported to NEISS in the 2014 data we examined: a relatively lucky 18-year-old male, crossing the street and not paying attention while talking on his phone, who suffered hand and hip bruises after being struck by a motor vehicle. Another: a 47-year-old male tripped and fell while texting, breaking his face and sunglasses.

Some cellphone users did''t even need to be walking to get hurt. One 33-year-old man “was on the cellphone, became excited, and fell (knee pain).”

smartphone injuriesinfog Stephen Sauer, Network World

Shattered by smartphone glass

Despite the advent of industrial-strength Gorilla Glass and other stronger display materials, people still wind up with glass shards in their eyes after dropping their smartphones. More than a dozen injuries reported involved cuts or abrasions from phone glass.

One 32-year-old man suffered a corneal abrasion suspected to be from small piece of glass (from a broken smartphone) that had been in his eye for a week or so. A 37-year-old woman fell and broke her phone, cutting her thumb on the glass.

Shocking news about smartphones

We found 14 incidents involving people being shocked by their phones, including one 31-year-old man who was speaking on a landline phone when lightning struck the house and went through the phone into his arm.

Most of the injuries involved charging phones, though a couple of people got zapped when putting phones in their mouths. One child did this and got electric burns on the tongue. 

Surprisingly, no spontaneous combustion incidents made the cut. 

Kids and smartphones these days

You might think by now that every kid would knew more about how to use smartphones than grown-ups, but you would't know it from the injury report.

Lots of kids throw phones at each other (let's hope these are cheapo prepaid phones and not pricey iPhones or big old Android phablets).

One 14-year-old boy had a cellphone thrown to him; it hit him in the head and he passed out with a cut to his noggin. Kids who should know better put phones in their mouths and ingested parts. A 13-year-old whose bare feet apparently weren't toughened up by years of stepping on Lego blocks pierced the bottom of one foot when stepping on the prongs of a phone charger.

Those phone cords and cables will trip you up

Ubiquitous wireless charging can't come soon enough for the injury-prone.

Certainly they would have helped one nine-year-old boy who cut his knee after tripping on a phone charger and falling.

Sure, the old-timers will curse those youngins and their smartphones, but landline phones have caused their share of harm too. More than a dozen people tripped over phone cords to land themselves in the ER.

Take the 71-year-old woman who cut her forehead after tripping on a telephone cord and hitting the wall. Others in their 70s broke ankles and knees after getting tripped up on cords. 

You've been warned

Now it's not as if phone makers don't make their customers aware of safety precautions. Apple, for example, warns in its iPhone User Guide against using a phone with a cracked screen and against cycling with your headphones on. Sure, you need to get to page 183 out of 196 in the guide to find this stuff, but still, it's mostly common sense.

Of course, it's a lack of this that helps keep so many ERs busy.

You can browse through the entire spreadsheet of phone-related injuries for 2014 below:

This story, "Blame the smartphone: Injuries pile up, from cat bites to shocks to broken bones" was originally published by Network World.

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