Campbellfield factory fire still smouldering, injured worker stable

More than 30 firefighters remain on the scene at Bradbury Industrial Services in Thornycroft Street, where they are using heavy machinery to extinguish hot spots throughout the building.

«Firefighters worked through the night last night and they’re likely to be here at least until tomorrow,» the spokeswoman said.

Australian Workers’ Union secretary Ben Davis said a co-worker unsuccessfully tried to use a faulty nearby fire hose to extinguish the flames on Mr Varatharaja’s body.

Mr Varatharaja was then rushed to The Alfred hospital, where he was put in an induced coma.

«He’s not well. He’s in the burns unit at The Alfred hospital… He’s got a long road to recovery,» Mr Davis said.

Another worker was taken by ambulance to the Royal Eye and Ear Hospital with an eye injury early on Friday.

Mr Davis said the AWU last year received complaints from workers at the Campbellfield factory about both underpayment and unsatisfactory operational health and safety conditions.

He said that while wages were being progressively repaid, concerns had remained over working conditions.

The toxic waste disposal facility at the centre of the blaze had its licence suspended on March 20.

The toxic waste disposal facility at the centre of the blaze had its licence suspended on March 20.Credit:Nine News

The Environmental Protection Authority said on Friday they had suspended the factory’s licence in March after they found hundreds of thousands of litres of chemicals that should not have been there.

The EPA inspected the factory on Thursday, the day before the fire, and discovered 300,000 litres of chemicals – three times the legal volume.


Mr Varatharaja — a Sri Lankan national who arrived in Australia on a bridging visa in 2013 — is one of several migrants employed by Bradbury Industrial Services at its Campbellfield site, according to Mr Davis.

«If employers and new businesses are employing people from vulnerable sections of the community, that always sets off warning bells,» he said.

«They should be paying workers correctly and giving them safe working conditions, and too often that’s not the case.

To have a burned worker in The Alfred hospital was unacceptable and showed that working conditions were not safe, he said.

Smoke from the Campbellfield fire can be seen from miles away.

Smoke from the Campbellfield fire can be seen from miles away.Credit:Eddie Jim

As the factory fire rapidly expanded on Friday morning and more than 170 firefighters attempted to contain it, employees were seen nearby as flames engulfed their cars and chemical drums erupted into the sky.

A donation page established for Mr Varatharaja had raised more than $8400 by Friday evening and states he fled the Sri Lankan civil war in 2013.

Authorities have been on high alert since last August when a West Footscray factory, stockpiled with toxic waste, went up in flames and burned for three days.

«Our concern today is for our injured member in hospital. Our concern tomorrow, Sunday and the next day is the livelihoods of the people that work out there,» Mr Davis said.

«But there’s a bigger picture issue for the whole industry, and questions need to be answered about how incidents like this can happen.»


The Age reported in March the EPA would undergo an independent review amid revelations it failed to act on toxic waste warnings two years ago for the biggest illegal dumping operation in Victoria’s history at a factory in Epping.

Deakin University lecturer Dr Trevor Thornton, who has been teaching about toxic waste for nearly three decades, warned Melbourne could suffer more toxic fires and other environmental catastrophes unless regulations were brought up to speed.

He called for businesses with dangerous materials to face more random inspections and be forced to report their actions to authorities more often.

Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters the government was ready to make changes if they were needed as a result of the blaze, amid a push for the EPA to have expanded powers.

Michael is a reporter for The Age.

Rachel covers general and breaking news for The Age.

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