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One of the clerks of works appointed to inspect work on the Grenfell Tower refurbishment has criticised the “mixed-up” way in which the construction industry now works, as he finished giving evidence to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.
Jonathan White, who worked as a clerk of works for John Rowan and Partners from 2009, following a 26-year career with Mowlem, was in charge of inspecting general building works on the Grenfell Tower project.
He worked alongside Tony Batty, who inspected M&E works.
They had been appointed by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management
Organisation (KCTMO), despite the fact that the TMO had not been obliged to do
so under its design and build contract with Rydon.
White and Batty were appointed to work for a total of 80
days between them on the project, and began inspections in February 2015, around
seven or eight months after the job started.
White hadn’t previously been involved in a job that involved
ACM cladding or PIR insulation in a rainscreen cladding system, but said he was
experienced with many other types of cladding over his career.
Confusion over the role
Despite being referred to regularly as a clerk of works, White insisted that he was actually a site inspector on Grenfell, who did not check for compliance, which he argued was the responsibility of Building Control.
Counsel to the Inquiry Rose Grogan asked White about KCTMO’s
invitation to tender, which stated: “KCTMO requires an organisation to provide
two clerks of works to assist in the supervision and monitoring of the works.
One clerk of works should have experience in mechanical and electrical
installations and the other with building works (ideally with experience of the
installation of external cladding).”
Among the duties listed for the clerk of works was: “Being
familiar with legal requirements and checking that the work complies with them.”
Asked if had been told this would be one of his duties, White said: “Not
specifically, but by checking that the legal requirements were fulfilled by
other people, I would say that that’s what I did.”
He said he hadn’t familiarised himself with the requirements
of Building Regulations as they would apply to an external rainscreen cladding
system before starting his role because that wasn’t in his remit. He said that
he wouldn’t have been equipped to note any non-compliances.
White claimed there was a “misunderstanding” about what his
role was on the Grenfell Tower project. He said that while on previous projects
he had acted as a clerk of works, working on site full time from the beginning to
end of construction, his role at Grenfell was on of a site inspector or site monitor
“because our role was far more limited in its scope and our overall involvement”.
Speaking to the Inquiry, he added: “It’s the confusion of
the clerk of works and site inspector. I would always clarify that when we had
a talk with the client, we would determine what our role was.”
White recalled how he went on the mast climbers of the
building and would check what workers were doing on the cladding and where they
were working. He said he would look to make sure everything was properly fitted
and that there were no loose materials or any damage. He also recalled
rejecting work on his first inspection of the cladding because the cladding was
scratched and wasn’t presentable.
He described how, to check the work, he would go on the mast
climber from the top of the building, checking work on each floor, down to the
third floor, where a lot of the works had already been finished. Then he would move
to the next climber, go all the way to the top, and start again.
However, he said he was never asked to inspect anything “specifically”
before the cladding panels went on. However he did go up on the mast climbers
to look at insulation and cavity barriers when he did his normal site
inspections. He compiled 35 report in total, with 10 or 12 inspections
conducted using the mast climbers. Asked if he ever recalled seeing drawings
showing the location of cavity barriers within the cladding, White replied: “Not
specifically, no.” He also answered that the location of the cavity barriers
would not have been of interest because he didn’t see himself as having a role
in design. Asked if he thought to check what had been specified in respect of
the cladding, he answered: “No…I was only there one day a week so I had limited
time and my role was not to check all the drawings or any of the
Asked what he was looking for, he replied: “Generally that
the work was neat and tidy, it wasn’t damaged, that everything seemed to be the
same, it was all fitted with the same detail, there was no damage, and there
were no holes insulation, the fixings were not loose. Generally I was just
checking that there was nothing that stood out.”
He added: “I think because Building Control were regularly visiting
and they were checking for compliance, if they had any issues then I would have
looked at the cladding more.”
Asked about his impression of the works, he said: “It looked very neat, and when I first went up the mast climbers, I just observed what was going on, see if they were doing everything safely, and I spoke briefly to the men, they seemed very experienced, they’d done previous jobs with Rydons, rainscreen , this type of cladding, and they seemed very experienced, and what I noticed , what I saw — normally if a job looks neat and tidy, normally it’s a good way of thinking whether it’s been done properly.”
An ‘unhelpful presence’
Grogan asked White if he was aware that Rydon thought at
times that the presence of the clerks of works was unhelpful.
White said: “I think our relationship early doors with Rydons was difficult because we came not at the beginning of the job, we weren’t part of the main team, we only started very late, and they weren’t keen for us to be there, and they didn’t really make us very welcome.”
But he said the relationship with the main contractor
improved when Rydon’s final site manager, Dave Hughes, started. White said: “He
understood that we were there to also help, and we had a much better
relationship. So I’d say one team particularly didn’t want us to be there and
weren’t particularly helpful, where Dave Hughes was very helpful and we tried
to work together.”
At the end of the hearing, White asked Inquiry chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick if he could say something. He said: “I have two more years to retirement. I have been in this industry all my life. And I would just like to say, when I started this industry, all the responsibilities were clear. You had an architect who did the design, you had an M&E that did the design, a structural engineer that did all the calculations. The architect was the lead designer and he designed everything, and you had a builder to build. Now it’s all mixed up, and a builder is good at building, but a builder is not good at designing. I wish we could go back to what it was when I started.”
The Inquiry continues.