Workers Killed In Fire At South Korean Battery Plant

At least 22 workers have died in a fire at a lithium battery factory in South Korea that began with a battery explosion.

Some 18 of the workers killed were Chinese nationals, one was from Laos and two were South Koreans, said an official with the fire department of Hwaseong, the industrial area southwest of Seoul where the fire occurred.

The nationality of the other deceased worker was yet to be confirmed, said fire official Kim Jin-young.

The blaze began at around 10:31 a.m. (0131 GMT) after a single battery cell caught fire, triggering a series of explosions in a warehouse where 35,000 lithium battery cells were stored on the second floor of a factory belonging to Aricell, said workers who fled the fire.

Seoul, South Korea. Image credit: Pexels

Temporary workers

Two workers were hospitalised with serious injuries and six others had minor injuries, fire officials said.

Kim said 102 people had been working in the factory when the fire broke out.

The dead were found on the 12,500-square-foot second floor of the factory, which had two unlocked exit staircases leading outside.

The workers appeared to have been overcome by toxic smoke before they could escape, said Kim.

Gyeonggi province fire official Cho Sun-ho said most of the foreign workers killed were temporary hires and may not have been familiar with the structure of the building.

Intense flames, toxic smoke and the risk of further explosions impeded firefighters’ efforts to access the factory. They were finally able to enter the building at around 3:10 p.m.

Television footage of the fire showed large flames and thick clouds of smoke billowing from the structure.

After the fire subsided aerial footage showed the building’s roof caved in and large areas that looked like they had been blown onto the street by explosions.

‘All-out efforts’

South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol visited the scene of the fire later on Monday and Interior Minister Lee Sang-min urged firefighters to “make all-out efforts” to rescue people by “mobilising all available personnel and equipment”.

Battery fires are an industry-wide concern at a time when batteries are becoming more widely used in electronic devices and electric vehicles.

South Korea is a major producer of lithium-ion batteries for uses including EVs.

Aricell makes lithium primary batteries for sensors and radio communications devices.

In 2023 South Korea brought in legislation to give possible jail sentences to executives of companies where fatal accidents occur, after dozens of workers were killed in industrial accidents each year.

Shares in Aricell majority owner S-Connect closed down 22.5 percent on the Kosdaq index on Monday.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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