A factory worker has spoken of his desperate struggle after an exploding chemical drum left him with serious burns before sparking a toxic inferno in suburban Melbourne.
After starting his 6am shift last Friday, Vignesh Varatharaja filled a chemical drum with solvent when it blew up in his face at the Campbellfield factory.
"I just turned right and the drum hit my shoulder and face heavily and my body caught fire and my clothes started burning," Mr Varatharaja said in a statement to AAP.
"Using my gloves, I tried to stop the fire on my clothes."
Mr Varatharaja ran and pressed the fire alarm. He asked a co-worker to take him to hospital, where he spent time in a specialist burns unit in a serious but stable condition.
His injuries include burns to his face, throat, shoulder pain and severe headaches and he has been given painkillers for two months.
"I am still in shock," he said.
"They gave two injections in my stomach to avoid any lung problems and I don't know what is happening.
"My mental health is affected. I am not able to sleep. I am shocked. I was doing this over two years, but nothing happened like this. I am very scared. I need mental health counselling."
Mr Varatharaja came to Australia as a refugee in 2013 after fleeing Sri Lanka.
He was detained in 2014 but got working rights the following year.
He joined Bradbury Industrial Services in 2017 as a warehouse assistant, packing solvents for distribution, but he says he will never work in a chemical factory again.
"I didn't know it would burst and cause so much fire," he said.
"They told us it will burst only if you phone or smoke (nearby), how they instruct in petrol stations.
"I used to stand very close every time I pumped the solvent. Luckily this time, I was draining instead of pumping, so I was standing two metres away."
Mr Varatharaja cannot work for up to three months and is grateful the Migrant Workers Centre has raised more than $23,000 for his medical bills.
"I was afraid I don't know what I am going to do for all my expenses like rent, food, bills and medical expenses. Saying 'thank you' is not enough to thank everyone."
Bradbury Industrial Services had its licence suspended by the environmental watchdog in March for stockpiling chemical waste.
Mr Varatharaja said he has suffered chemical-exposure injuries previously on the job, including blisters on his cheeks.
Australian Associated Press