Sub-contracting weakens regulatory oversight during construction, industry figures have said after the Grenfell Tower Inquiry published a series of damning expert reports into the tragedy.
There were calls for an overhaul of the procurement process and tighter safety regulation after reports revealed that the cladding on the tower was never tested, did not comply with fire regulations, and was incorrectly installed.
Following the reports, a number of industry experts have blamed a “climate of fear” within the sub-contracting process which leads to regulatory oversight.
“You have got to have the people that deliver the design involved in the design process”, Specialist Engineering Contractors Group chief executive Rudi Klein told New Civil Engineer.
“They’re just told give us your cheapest price and get on with it and that is it, the supplier or installer just do as they’re told. If they start questioning things they’ll be told ‘Well, do you want this contract or not?’”, he added.
“There is a culture in the industry that says, if you start questioning things then you stand to lose your contract or you are deemed commercially unsuitable. These people are not going to raise questions because there is a climate of fear.
“It would be shocking if, after this, there wasn’t fundamental change to the way in which we procure and deliver construction.”
Questions surrounding regulatory control at Grenfell Tower have been raised after Dr Barbara Lane’s report cited “multiple catastrophic fire spread routes” were created during the 2016 refurbishment of the west London block, which led to the failure of London Fire Brigade’s ‘Stay Put’ strategy during the blaze in which 72 people died.
The inquiry’s lead counsel Richard Millett QC revealed on Monday that the manufacturer of rainscreen cladding Arconic accepts that its product “was not of limited combustibility for the purposes of the building regulations.”
CS Todd managing director Colin Todd, one of the expert witnesses in the inquiry, said in his report that “no BS8414 tests were carried out” on the cladding. Subsequent tests have found the material often fails to meet building regulations.
Mosen managing director Fathi Tarada said: “There are so many things which went wrong, it puts a question on the whole regulatory environment we are in in terms of building control. What were building control doing? Who did the contractors have to get approval from? It puts a question mark on all of that.
“Are the building control procedures as robust as they should be for refurbishment compared to new builds?”
“These problems are not unique to Grenfell, they are industry wide,” Klein continued. “There is clearly inadequate enforcement of building safety all down the line.”
Tarada added that in his experience, building control has “tightened up significantly” since the Grenfell Tower fire.
The inquiry into the fire at the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, London, in the early hours of 14 June 2017, is split into two phases, which will run in parallel.
The first examines what actually happened in the early hours of the morning when the fire broke out. The second phase looks at the refurbishment and how the building was exposed to such a fire risk.
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