Shop blast burns off man's face

Suited up: Fire officer Vanessa Madge dons a protective suit.
Suited up: Fire officer Vanessa Madge dons a protective suit.

A RESTAURANT worker’s face was burnt off in a chemical explosion at Cooroy yesterday.

The 27-year-old man, who lives in Cooroy, lost all three layers of skin on his face in the blast.

It was thought he poured the chemical cleaning agent sodium hydroxide, or caustic soda, down a drain at Cooroy Chinese about 10am yesterday.

The young man, who speaks very little English, remained conscious and needed no breathing assistance in the two hours before he arrived by air at the Royal Brisbane Burns unit at midday.

The man, who was doing some cleaning at the time, also suffered third degree or “full thickness burns” to his left and right arms.

The Maple Street restaurant was closed at the time of the incident. It did not open yesterday.

Shocked staff from neighbouring businesses and curious bystanders watched as a convoy of emergency service vehicles, police and a suited-up hazardous materials unit converged on the restaurant.

Investigators from Workplace Health and Safety are looking into the incident, which began to unfold just after 10am. The Chinese national was cleaning in the kitchen when the accident happened.

“There has been an explosion that has erupted into the man’s face and arms, causing serious chemical burns,” Cooroy police senior constable Jonathon Campbell said.

Senior Constable Campbell said police secured the scene and called the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service Hazmat unit.

Caustic soda, which is highly corrosive, is often used as a cleaning agent.

Protective clothing, including rubber gloves, body apron and eye goggles, is often advised for those who use the chemical.

Considerable heat is generated when caustic soda is combined with water.

The restaurant owner was reported to have applied cold water to the man’s burns until paramedics arrived.

An ambulance crew took the patient about a kilometre down the road to the Cooroy Sportsground where the AGL Action Rescue Helicopter Service collected him at 11am.

He arrived at Royal Brisbane Hospital burns unit about 50 minutes later.

AGL Action Rescue flight paramedic Michael Kerr said the language barrier had made things more difficult.

Mr Kerr said the man’s facial injuries were extremely severe. “His hands and arms were bandaged but we could not bandage his face,” Mr Kerr said.

“He had significant facial swelling but his upper airway was intact, which in this situation has a significant potential to deteriorate very quickly.”

Mr Kerr, a paramedic of 20 years, said the patient had required a great deal of pain relief.

“He is extremely lucky the burns were isolated outside his face and that he hadn’t inhaled any of the chemicals,” Mr Kerr said.

A Royal Brisbane Hospital spokeswoman said the man was in a stable condition in the intensive care unit.

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