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Real and phantom risks at the petrol station: The curious case of mobile phones, fires and body static

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This case study examines the alleged hazard associated with mobile phone use at petrol stations and suggests that it is a phantom risk. Understanding its persistence in the absence of evidence, a number of factors are outlined. A precautionary safety regime enforced by oil companies in the UK established a restriction on mobile use on station forecourts that had the effect of confirming a danger. Warning signs in mobile phone handbooks had a similar effect and led to further restrictions at petrol stations. Among a number of problematic consequences, most ironic has been to distract from the real cause of the increased number of petrol stations fires at, particularly, American petrol stations. Investigations have identified the real cause; body static generated through vehicle re-entry while refuelling. This episode suggests the need for clarity about the precise reasons behind any restrictions on the use of a popular device that is already established as a potential, but invariably unconfirmed, health hazard.

Keywords: Rumour; fire; mobile phone; petrol station; static

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: SSPSSR, University of Kent, UK

Publication date: 2007-03-01

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