Grenfell: Harley had no staff with façade engineering qualification
Specialist cladding subcontractor Harley Curtain Wall had no employees with a completed qualification in façade engineering at the time it worked on the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry has heard.
The news came to light as Ray Bailey, who was director of Harley Curtain Wall (which fell into administration in 2015 and was sold to Harley Façades in a pre-pack deal), at the time of the work appeared as a witness in yesterday’s (8 September) hearing.
Bailey set the company up in 1996 and while he graduated in civil engineering in 1981, he admitted that he did not study façade engineering as a specialty. The company had a technical manager who had an MSc in façade engineering and was a member of the Institute of Façade Engineers but he left in late 2012 or early 2013. He was replaced by Dan Anketell-Jones who was three-quarters of the way through his MSc in façade engineering by the time he was involved in Grenfell Tower.
When asked by leading counsel to the Inquiry Richard Millett QC about his understanding of the properties of the ACM cladding and insulation materials that Harley had installed at Grenfell, Bailey said he understood the combustibility of ACM panels to be class 0 but had no understanding of the combustibility and fire risks attendant on the polyethylene core within the ACM panel. Neither did he have any understanding at the time of Grenfell Tower about the combustibility and attendant fire risks relating to PIR insulation.
Bailey said that in 2013 to 2014 that there was one employee at Harley who was involved in façade engineering, with a total of six in the design office. He added: “What the design office generally do is if the products have a certificate that says they’re class 0, they rely on that…Once the certificate has been looked at and the product is accepted, they will use it.”
Asked if Harley provided any formal training or continuing professional development (CPD) for employees during the period, Bailey said that in addition to some, like Anketell-Jones, studying for an MSc, there were product knowledge courses with companies like Kawneer, Shüco and Pilkington but he admitted that employees did not attend courses on ACM panels or the insulation used in the rainscreen system.
‘Misleading’ insulation claims
Explaining that PIR insulation had better thermal insulation properties than the Rockwool that the industry had used in the past, Bailey said that in retrospect he found claims about the combustibility of the Celotex insulation used on Grenfell Tower were “misleading”.
He said: “When we were asked to use Celotex on Grenfell Tower, we were of the mindset that these new special super-duper insulation products were acceptable, providing they met certain criteria.
“Celotex made a big, big deal about their products being suitable for buildings…over 18 metres and then they used the term which is very misleading now looking back – the term ‘class 0 throughout’, not surface but actually throughout.
“So we not only read the literature, we had their technical sales manager go through the projects, we sent drawings showing the application with the ACM on the building to them, and I think we carried out all possible reasonable tests. And it’s also on the basis that Celotex produced (inaudible) a huge, multinational company, and we didn’t believe for one second that they would attempt to mislead us.”
He added that he had seen on Celotex sales literature that RS5000 and FR5000 had been tested to BS 8414 and BS 476 and it was class 0 “throughout”.
He also confirmed that he had no knowledge of the risks of specifying ACM polyethylene panels as part of the rainscreen cladding system together with PIR insulation.
Bailey asserted that his firm would not “knowingly provide materials that weren’t compliant”, nor designs that weren’t compliant. But when pressed by Millett over whether or not the key concept drawings that Harley drew up were cross-checked as part of its review with the Building Regulations and Approved Document B, he admitted: “Not specifically, no.”
Millett asked: “Do you accept that as a specialist subcontractor responsible for design, supply and fix of the façade on the Grenfell Tower project, the buck stopped with Harley on products and design?
Bailey replied that he did not and when asked why not, he replied: “Because there is a raft of layers with Harley, with the architect, with the fire consultants, with Building Control, to ensure that the products are – – or the design is compliant.”
Millett countered: “Are you saying that you were reliant on Building Control to make sure that the products and design were compliant?”
Bailey replied: “Well, ultimately, yes.”
Millett continued: “Can you explain how that comes about, given that you were selling expertise and services as a specialist cladding subcontractor on this project?”
Bailey explained: “We have our designs and the expertise is in the cladding and how it’s attached to the building, how we get it to site on time, how we make it fit. On particular items where we’re not entirely clear, we ask questions of the architect, of the specialist, of Building Control, to ensure that it complies.”
Awareness of historical fires
Millett also probed Bailey on his awareness, as at 2013, of a “long history” of fires on cladding facades on high-rise residential buildings.
Bailey said he was aware of the 1991 fire at Knowsley Heights as well as at Lakanal House in 2009. But he denied being aware of the fire at Mermoz Tower in Roubaix in France in 2012 and a spate of fires at high-rise buildings in the United Arab Emirates in 2012 to 2013. Bailey also said he had not heard about fires at the Address Downtown Hotel and the Torch building in Dubai in 2015 because they weren’t “widely reported”.
Millett asked: “Is it fair to say that, as Harley was holding itself out as a specialist cladding contractor, you and your team should have been aware of the dangers associated with ACM panels that those fires illustrated?”
Bailey replied that it was not. He added: “The fires that happened abroad were not reported, so we weren’t aware of those. The other two fires, one in 1991, the recommendation was about the cavity barriers should be installed. The Lakanal fire was – as it was reported, the problem was that the firestopping on the inside of the cladding system had been removed, so the panels themselves didn’t appear to be the issue.”
The Inquiry continues.