Worker suffers serious burns in lithium explosion

A man has been flown to hospital with serious burn injuries after an explosion at a battery manufacturer in Wollongong.

Firefighters were called to the industrial precinct at Montague Street in North Wollongong after receiving reports of a large explosion at an industrial warehouse.

The 42-year-old man was handling a delivery of lithium cells that ignited.

“It has projected a fireball which has gone about 25 metres,” said NSW Ambulance duty inspector Norm Rees.

The man suffered second-degree burns to 18 per cent of his body and was treated at the scene.

“He had burns to the face and he was also burned by fragments of molten metal that had gone under his chest and arm,” Mr Rees said.

“We had a second ambulance unit there which was treating a number of people for obviously the trauma.

“It is quite a distressing scene for the local workers in that area.”

The injured man was taken to Wollongong Hospital for treatment before he was flown to the specialist burns unit at the Royal North Shore Hospital.

The explosion occurred at the warehouse of battery manufacturer Sicona Battery Technologies.

NSW Fire and Rescue Superintendent Peter Church said the man was attempting to neutralise the lithium cells when they ignited.

“Before they can transport them safely, they need to be neutralised, which you do with a small amount of water,” Mr Church said.

“They do oxidise somewhat slightly once they mix with water.

“However the reaction that we saw occur today was very unusual.”

The warehouse was not significantly damaged by the explosion, but it triggered a fire in an adjacent furniture store.

Chris Duffus is the operations manager at Illawarra Vocational Services, which has an office nearby and witnessed the incident.

“The young bloke came out and there was a bucket on fire, he was trying to put it out and then the bucket exploded,” he said.

“It was a big bang when it went off.”

Mr Duffus and some other workers at nearby businesses tried to extinguish the blaze and help the injured man.

“We got the fire hoses and we were trying to put out the poor young bloke who got covered in the stuff, he was pretty badly burnt,” Mr Duffus said.

Fire investigators and SafeWork NSW will investigate the cause of the fire.

Source: ABC News

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