$2.9 million fine for chemical fire and stockpiles

July 3, 2023

The company responsible for a 2019 Campbellfield fire that burned for four days, closed nearby schools, and injured two workers has been fined $2.9 million.

Bradbury Industrial Services Pty Ltd, now in liquidation, was sentenced in the County Court after earlier pleading guilty to a single charge under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and five charges under the Dangerous Goods Act.

In relation to the chemical blaze, the company was convicted and fined $500,000 for failing to provide a safe workplace.

The company was also convicted and fined $2.4 million for failing to take reasonable precautions to prevent a fire or explosion in relation to chemical stockpiles uncovered at five other sites in Craigieburn and Campbellfield.

The court heard that on 5 April 2019 at the company’s warehouse in Thornycroft Street, Campbellfield, a worker was decanting highly flammable toluene from a bulk container, held by a forklift, into a drum when there was a large flash and a fire ignited.

The fire quickly spread throughout the building and took four days to extinguish. It caused burns to the worker’s face and throat that left him in hospital for three days. A second worker was also taken to hospital.

The court heard that toluene is a Class 3 Dangerous Good that can build up electrostatic charge as it flows through pipes.

A WorkSafe investigation found Bradbury failed to control the risk of serious injury or death by providing the training, information, instruction, and supervision necessary for employees to work safely with dangerous goods, which included ensuring workers understood the risk of fire and/or explosion from electrostatic charge.

WorkSafe inspections of five other Bradbury warehouses found deficiencies in the storage of more than 10 million litres of chemicals, including bulk containers stacked up to four-high, incompatible dangerous goods stored in close proximity and swollen, damaged and leaking containers.

A dangerous goods expert engaged by WorkSafe also identified inadequate or non-existent fire protection, spill containment, and ventilation systems, as well as potential ignition sources such as switchboards, lighting, and forklifts.

The five warehouses included 9-11 Brooklyn Court, Campbellfield, 1745 Sydney Road, Campbellfield, and 12, 20A and 20B Yellowbox Drive, Craigieburn.

WorkSafe’s investigation found Bradbury failed to take reasonable precautions to prevent fires or explosions at these five sites by reducing the quantity of dangerous goods, excluding ignition sources from hazardous areas, separating incompatible classes of dangerous goods, and ensuring each site had adequate ventilation and fire protection.

WorkSafe Executive Director of Health and Safety Narelle Beer said the fire was a shocking example of the consequences of ignoring safety requirements: “This terrible fire injured two workers, endangered the health and safety of firefighters and emergency responders and blanketed surrounding suburbs in smoke for days, forcing the closure of local schools.

“The sheer volume of hazardous chemicals at Bradbury’s other sites and the unsafe way in which they were stored posed significant risk to workers and the surrounding communities. There is no excuse for such blatant disregard for workplace safety.”

This is valid as of 3rd July 2023.

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