Grenfell: ‘Epidemic level of incompetence’ on fire safety

31 January 2020 | By Neil Gerrard

Image: Dreamstime/Alex Danila

The organisations working on both the refurbishment and then the management of Grenfell Tower have been accused of an “epidemic level of incompetence” from a fire safety perspective by a lawyer acting for a group of bereaved families and survivors.

Speaking in a hearing of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry yesterday, Stephanie Barwise QC said the incompetence extended to “all the disciplines involved”.

“These disciplines include TMO (the tenant management organisation) and its fire risk assessor, and many of the professionals and contractors involved in the refurbishment, principally the fire engineer, Exova, Studio E, Rydon, Harley, and other subcontractors, as well as RBKC (Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea) building control,” she asserted.

Barwise said that contrary to arguments from core participants that Approved Document B lacked clarity “it was sufficiently clear as to the requirements for a façade on a building over 18m tall, as Grenfell was”.

She explained: “There are four possible routes to compliance, three of which derive from Approved Document B. First, either the precise cladding proposed is tested by a large - scale test carried out in accordance with BS 8414.

"Second, the so-called linear route, which requires that the cladding should use only limited combustibility insulation, and the external surface of walls should comply with diagram 40, namely be national class 0 or Euro class B-s3,d2 or better.

"Third, a holistic fire engineered study.

"Fourth is a route postulated by the Building Control Alliance technical guidance note, namely a desktop study.”

No large-scale test considered

She added: “There is no evidence that, at Grenfell, any consideration was given to following any of the four routes to compliance. No large-scale test was considered, nor holistic fire engineered study, nor desktop.

"As a result, by default, the designers and contractors must have been following the linear route. Insofar as the designers and contractors appear to have been concerned about any aspect of compliance, they seem to have taken comfort, or at least claim they may have done so, from the fact that the BBA (British Board of Agrément) certificate for the cladding panel was class 0, and the fact that the insulation literature said the product was class 0.”

She went on to criticise the companies involved in the refurbishment strongly, saying: “It appears the designers and contractors fell broadly into two camps at Grenfell: they either did not think about compliance at all, or many of those who did address it seem to have understood what was required and ignored it.

"This is one of the more troubling emerging themes, that many of the professionals and contractors wilfully failed to comply with the regulations or statutory guidance, despite being fully aware of and understanding the guidance.”

Barwise singled out fire safety firm Exova for particular criticism, calling theirs the “most egregious example” and referring to evidence from Dr Barbara Lane’s expert report, which found that a fire strategy for the existing building, an initial design note and three iterations of the outline fire strategy for the refurbishment were all “fundamentally flawed”.

Turning to cladding manufacturer Arconic, she disputed its claim that its product’s flammability should have been known to others.

She said: “Arconic failed to advise any of the contractors or designers with whom it had been dealing on Grenfell that the polyethylene-cored Reynobond was unsuitable and non-compliant, or that the BBA certificate which suggested the product was class 0 was for the riveted but not the cassette panel.”

The Inquiry is due to resume for more hearings on Monday next week.


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