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Grenfell project manager ‘unfamiliar’ with fire regulations

23 July 2020

RYDON’S PROJECT manager on the Grenfell refurbishment admitted he ‘did not know’ about fire safety regulations, and was ‘not familiar’ with building regulations.

The second phase began this year, with hearings delayed due to witnesses asking for assurances that ‘anything they say will not be used in criminal prosecutions’. This was granted and later extendedAfter resuming post suspension due to COVID-19the first week saw a senior fire engineer state she ‘did not raise the need for any proposed cladding system to have a separate fire safety assessment’, while another was sent the cladding design report but did not view it. 

Earlier this month, two fire consultants said they gave ‘no thought’ to evacuating disabled residents, before a reveal that Studio E and Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) clashed over fire safety; another consultant ‘had no clue that cladding was part of the plans’Last week, a Studio E architect said no drawing records were kept and ACM cladding was the ‘cheaper option’.

Over the last week, Rydon contracts manager Simon Lawrence’s evidence has been given, including that he admitted the company ‘overlooked’ a key document ‘regarding the fire hazards of certain cladding materials’ and relied on other companies to check subcontractors’ work. Earlier this week, he admitted it ‘did not check’ the ‘expertise’ of Studio E, and then admitted it ‘pocketed’ £126,000 from the switch to ACM.

Yesterday, he denied he had given assurances about the aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding not burning ‘at all’, while drawings were found to have been signed off incorrectly, before the inquiry heard there was ‘no evidence’ that Rydon employees working on the refurbishment had responded to emails ‘seeking clarification on cladding safety’. His final testimony covered Rydon’s naming of residents questioning the quality of work as‘rebels’, and ‘persistent and aggressive’.

Construction News reported on the evidence given by Simon O’Connor, who said he was ‘aware that they [building regulations] were there, but not familiar of them in detail’ in May 2014. On being asked by inquiry counsel Richard Millett if he knew about Approved Document B of the Building Regulations (ADB), he said ‘no, at the time, no’ – Mr O’Connor having been project manager at Grenfell from May 2014 until August 2015, leaving due to ‘too much pressure’ on the project.

The inquiry was shown Rydon’s tender documents for the refurbishment, including Mr O’Connor’s CV, which said that he was ‘responsible for all operations on site’ including ‘co-ordinating design and management of subcontractors’ – when asked if he agreed with this summary, he stated that ‘no, I wouldn’t be qualified to co-ordinate design; I wouldn’t know where to start’.

His CV also claimed that he was able to ‘positively contribute technical expertise and facilitate informed information choice for clients and residents during value engineering and decision-making processes’. He commented that he was ‘aware’ Rydon had needed to find cost savings via value engineering at Grenfell, but was not ‘in any way involved’, adding that ‘I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a value-engineering process’.

Mr O’Connor also admitted that he had not completed HNC Building Studies, despite this being listed as a qualification on the CV, and he told the inquiry that ‘this was the first time’ he had seen both the CV and tender document. He claimed that the CV ‘would’ve been [compiled by] someone like the bid writers or marketing team’ at Rydon, and not by himself.

On being asked for information on how progress on site was tracked, he stated that he had arranged a monitoring programme with each subcontractor to ‘monitor their progress against programme’ either weekly or monthly, but said ‘I wouldn’t necessarily go to these’. He also claimed that Harley Facades would track work progress by marking up drawings weekly, adding that ‘they would colour code where they’d been.

‘Each colour would be different, I’m colour blind, but each colour would be different to show insulation here, or rails here, or brackets here, for example’. He also said that he ‘assumed’ all materials brought to site were safe, but when inquiry chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick asked him to clarify ‘whose responsibility it was to check’ materials coming to site, Mr O’Connor replied that ‘it would’ve been the subcontractors’.

He added that subcontractors on the project ‘ordered their own materials and it would’ve been brought in through the rear gate by one of the marshals, but if you’re asking if one of the managers was there to sign it off as it came in, no’. There was also no system for subcontractors to report deliveries to Rydon because they were ‘tried and tested subcontractors’, and it was not his role to have knowledge ‘of what was going through the site’.

Questioned about his knowledge of cladding and its fire risks, Mr O’Connor said he ‘wasn’t aware of any fires in the UK or elsewhere’ that involved cladding, and was aware of the Lakanal House fire in 2009 ‘through watching the news’, but ‘as far as he was aware’ no training was implemented by Rydon ‘as a result’ of that fire.

Grenfell project manager ‘unfamiliar’ with fire regulations