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Company behind chemical warehouse inferno fined $3m

Firefighters took four days to put out the blaze, with smoke forcing local businesses to evacuate.

Firefighters took four days to put out the blaze, with smoke forcing local businesses to evacuate. Photo: AAP

The company behind a mammoth chemical warehouse inferno that left a worker hospitalised and sent plumes of smoke billowing in Melbourne has been hit with almost $3 million in fines.

Chemical waste recycling company Bradbury Industrial Services Pty Ltd, now in liquidation, operated out of several warehouses in Melbourne when its Campbellfield premises went up in flames on April 5, 2019.

The blaze started when an employee was decanting the dangerous liquid toluene, which can be susceptible to a build-up of electrostatic charge, from a 1000-litre container into a 60-litre drum.

The worker was unaware static could cause a fire and was never taught to earth containers before filling them.

Shortly after he started the decanting process, there was a large flash and a fire erupted before it quickly spread out of control and destroyed the warehouse.

The worker spent three days at The Alfred hospital having sustained burns to his face and throat, and a shoulder injury.

He told the County Court of Victoria he had a lot of anger about the fire, struggled with sleep and had to seek help from psychologists after the blaze.

WorkSafe in 2015 handed Bradbury an improvement notice to better store dangerous chemicals at the Campbellfield warehouse and warned the company about the explosion risk of static charge.

It took firefighters four days to extinguish the blaze and the smoke from it forced nearby businesses to evacuate and several schools to close.

The fire also polluted local waterways and led to a six-month clean-up operation, during which the state’s environment watchdog removed almost 6000 tonnes of waste.

The operation was estimated to have cost about $6.5 million.

Only weeks before the fire, Environment Protection Authority officers inspected the Campbellfield warehouse and found Bradbury was storing more liquid waste than its licence allowed.

It was found to be keeping about 136,000 litres of primarily flammable waste on the morning of the blaze – clearly presenting a risk of explosion when workers weren’t properly trained about static, Judge Peter Rozen said on Friday.

An expert later inspected Bradbury’s other warehouses and found even more dangerous chemicals stockpiled.

A warehouse at Brooklyn Court in Campbellfield held more than two million litres of dangerous chemicals.

The warehouse wasn’t fit to hold that amount of dangerous chemical, there wasn’t an adequate fire protection system, ignition sources were present and containers were stacked three-high, the court was told.

Some containers holding dangerous chemicals appeared to be damaged or leaking at the Brooklyn Court warehouse, and others held at warehouses on Sydney Road in Campbellfield and Yellowbox Drive in Craigieburn appeared to be in a similar state.

The Sydney Road premises contained more than five million litres of dangerous chemicals with some containers stacked four-high, while between three and nine million litres of chemicals was improperly stored at the Craigieburn warehouses.

Justice Rozen said: “It does not take a great deal of imagination to contemplate the likely impact of a fire (at any of those warehouses).”

He fined Bradbury a total of $2.98 million for offences including failing to take reasonable precautions, failing to provide a safe working environment by providing necessary instruction, information, supervision and training, and breaching its licence.

Justice Rozen earlier noted there was no prospect of Bradbury paying the fines, given it was in liquidation.

– AAP

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