The main reminder from the Grenfell Inquiry last week was that Building Control should be used be a safety net, not a fundamental part of the design process. We also learned more about potential communication failings between interior and exterior contractors.
It was frankly heart breaking to hear the testimony of John Hoban, the Building Control Officer for the Grenfell construction works. The catalogue of issues points to clear systemic failings and, whilst the sign off process raises an eyebrow, you have to question how Building Control could ever be resourced to make up for shortfalls in the design process. Too often in construction it has been “we’ve got a certificate, so it is compliant” not that “we engaged the supply chain early, overcame issues and made it easy for Building Control to do their job. The need through the Building Safety Bill to establish clear STOP / GO gateways is very clear.
In other testimony, another problem emerging was an apparent lack of communication between trades leaving siloed and inconsistent decisions around vital interfaces. Externally confusion over horizontal and vertical cavity closers and the role of intumescent seemed to point to a lack of knowledge from experienced fitters. Vital cavity closers were fitted the wrong way round, horizontal closers where vertical should be and poor workmanship were all cited and contributed to the situation where intumescent strips could not provide the necessary protection. A point made was that the speed at which these would have been covered up and a lack of allowance in the programme for adequate inspection made detailed inspection impossible.
The lack of joined up approach between external works was clear when Mark Dixon of SD Plastering took the stand. SD Plastering were contracted to install the window trim inside the tower. The package was under pressure to remove cost, material was switched from wood to PVC seemingly without consideration for the differening performances. Insulation Board was again added, in part to provide support related to the movement of the windows. In selecting the material, whilst Rockwool was recommended, the material selected was not of limited combustibility. Mark Dixon confirmed in testimony that he did not consider the fire performance, and assumed that strategy was in place to deal with external issues.
If you are not following the Inquiry, I do recommend setting aside 40 mins each week, to download the podcast from BBC Sounds, it without doubt creates pause for thought about how the culture and established processes in construction must change and context for the introduction of the new Building Safety Bill.
You can listen to the latest Grenfell Podcast on BBC Sounds here
You can access full transcripts and videos of the Inquiry here
Join the FIS / ASFP Debate on the incoming Building Safety Bill on the 8th October here.