RYDON STAFF have given evidence at the inquiry into the June 2017 fire, and admitted that the company ‘overlooked’ a safety document and relied on others to check subcontractors’ work.
The second phase began earlier this year, seeing hearings delayed due to witnesses asking for assurances that ‘anything they say will not be used in criminal prosecutions against them’. This was granted and later extended.
After the inquiry resumed ‘on a limited attendance basis’, post suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 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 as ‘he was not specifically asked to’.
This week, two Exova consultants said they gave ‘no thought’ to evacuating disabled residents because the law ‘didn’t require them to’, before it was revealed Studio E and Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea clashed over fire safety, and another ‘had no clue that cladding was part of the plans’.
Most recently, a Studio E architect said no records were kept of drawings, and that aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding was the ‘cheaper option’. BBC News and BD Online reported on evidence from Rydon contracts manager Simon Lawrence, who admitted it ‘overlooked’ a key fire safety document ‘regarding the fire hazards of certain cladding materials’.
The standard for systemised building envelopes document needed to be kept on site as per national building specifications, but the ‘sheer amount of information’ involved in the project meant this was missed. It states that ‘the building envelope shall not be composed of materials which readily support combustion, add significantly to the fire load, and/or give off toxic fumes’.
When asked about this by inquiry counsel Richard Millett, he said ‘we wouldn’t have had a copy on site […] it obviously wasn’t picked up [and] obviously wasn’t noticed’. On steps taken to supervise ‘and ensure the works were being completed with safe materials’, he responded ‘it would be using a competent design team, competent specialist contractors, backed up by building control and all the layers within’.
He ‘wasn’t aware’ of ACM’s fire risks or that it was available with a fire retardant core; ‘did not know’ polyethylene was combustible; and ‘wouldn’t have known [what] limited combustibility [was]’, and ‘had not fully understood [it] at the time’, or that anyone at Rydon ‘would have been familiar with it’. He did not know cavity barriers were required around windows, nor that insulation on buildings above 18m had to be of limited combustibility.
He was also unaware of global residential high rise fires, but knew about the Lakanal House fire and ‘that external spread of fire was a factor’, though not that it involved cladding. Rydon ‘as far as he knew’ had no training programme on this for high rise teams, with Mr Millett asking if Rydon’s role was to provide management, Mr Lawrence agreeing that it was up to Rydon’s subcontracted design team ‘to check’ any materials used were safe and complied with regulations.
Involved between June 2014 and October 2015, ‘at no point’ did he ‘have any reason to believe’ materials would be used that did not meet requirements, and he admitted Rydon ‘relied’ on subcontractors to ‘fulfil’ contractual obligations on project safety. It ‘lacked the in-house expertise’ to check subcontractor work, relying on third parties and ‘ultimately’ building control to sign off work.
He agreed Rydon had a ‘direct design responsibility’ to ensure work complied ‘whether that work was carried out by its own staff or its subcontractors’, and asked whether it took steps to ensure staff understood requirements to comply with, he said ‘we would all understand that in general terms […] but we wouldn’t know every sub-section’. On product performance, ‘we would have known the overview’, and ‘what the product did […] but not the in-depth detail of all the technical specifications’.
He was then asked about guidance documents relating to high rise cladding, and whether he could ‘account for being contract manager’ without being familiar with the Building Control Alliance’s Use of Combustible Cladding Materials on Residential Buildings. Mr Lawrence responded that ‘there are a lot of technical guidance and documents out there’ and ‘hundreds of documents within a contract’.
He was familiar with general principles of not ‘building a building that’s, dare I say it, unsafe’, but Rydon relied on subcontractors ‘to be aware of such documents’. Asked how he could ‘check whether they had used industry guidance […] if you weren’t aware of it’, Mr Lawrence stated this was done by ‘employing the right contractors and/or designers and ultimately, when it comes to compliance, we are looking for the building to be signed off […] by building control’.
Ensuring materials did not ‘readily support combustion’ included using a ‘competent design team and competent specialist contractors, backed up by building control’. On firestopping, Mr Millett asked if Rydon was ‘relying on others’ to ‘ensure that the design and construction complied’, and Mr Lawrence agreed; before Mr Millett asked whether there were ‘any processes in place […] for ensuring the system wasn’t a fire risk after completion’, Mr Millet again agreeing.
Rydon ‘employed specialist designers that should have been designing and installing to the regs’, and ‘it was then checked by not only an independent clerk of works’ but also building control. Though Rydon ‘relied on others’, site managers checked accordance with drawings. On who would check if work complied with Approved Document B of the Building Regulations (ADB), Mr Lawrence and his site team ensured information was ‘given to third parties who could check’.
Mr Millett clarified that ‘other people checked compliance, not Rydon’, and Mr Lawrence agreed; Mr Millet then asked if that meant Rydon ‘wasn’t actually supervising itself’ but was ‘employing other people to perform its supervision’. Mr Lawrence responded that this ‘would depend on what part of the works we’re talking about […] we would supervise them by making sure they carried their work out in programme and quality’, but ‘we would not be able to check to the technical detail’.
There was no ‘ADB bod in Rydon on this project’, and he ‘could not recall’ whether he had read it - ‘I would have regarded [guidance] as reference documents as and when if we needed to investigate further […] we wouldn’t as a site team be able to interpret these […] without help from others’. Mr Millett asked how Rydon would ‘ensure each sub-contractor understood its responsibilities’, Mr Lawrence responding ‘I don’t know […] it would have been good to have [a] matrix of responsibility’.