Grenfell: Site manager ‘not aware of cladding combustibility’

The Rydon manager who took over the site of the Grenfell Tower refurbishment in 2015 had never heard of insulation being described as “combustible” or “non-combustible”, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry has heard.

David Hughes, who started working for Rydon 20 years ago as a site engineer’s assistant and is now a site manager, was drafted in to complete and hand over the communal M&E systems and cladding at Grenfell in October 2015, after the departure of project manager Simon O’Connor.

Hughes said he had worked on projects with cladding before, albeit not the size of Grenfell. He had not previously done any high-rise cladding and it was the first project where he looked at cavity barriers “in a serious way”.

The cladding was already “well under progress” when he arrived, and although he was not officially more senior than other site managers on the project, he “essentially” ended up taking over O’Connor’s role.

Hughes said he read the NBS specification for Grenfell prior to commencing work but did not recall examining contract documents. “In terms of the actual contract documents, I don’t remember reading them specifically, but I wouldn’t be interested in that; I was interested in what the specification was,” he said.

Substitute request by subcontractor

Shortly after he joined the project, he approved a request by subcontractor Harley Facades to substitute insulation product Celotex RS5000, which was temporarily unavailable due to supply problems, with Kingspan Kooltherm K15.

Hughes admitted this had been done without the knowledge of the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO). Earlier in the hearing, Hughes was asked if he knew that if Rydon was going to change anything in the specification, for example the materials, that there was a need to get the prior consent of the employer. Hughes replied that he was not.

Hughes explained that as far as he was concerned the exchange of Kingspan for Celotex was a “like-for-like swap” and that they had “very similar U-values”.

Asked if he considered the fire safety performance of Kingspan Kooltherm K-15, Hughes said: “Specifically, no. But every job I’ve ever done has had that product, be it Celotex or Kingspan, in some quantity.”

Asked by Kate Grange QC, counsel to the Inquiry, if he had ever consulted architect Studio E or consultant Exova over the swap, Hughes replied that he had not, nor that he remembered ever seeing a British Board of Agrément (BBA) certificate for the product. Hughes said: “I’ve never ever heard insulation described in terms of combustible or non-combustible, it’s always just been solid or quilt insulation, that’s how I know them.”

Building Control

Asked why he did not think to tell Building Control that a different insulation product was going to be used, Hughes replied: “Because, like I said, going back to my knowledge at the time, it was very, very similar. It’s almost whichever – Celotex or Kingspan – whichever one gets specified by the designer is what goes on the building. As I say, they are so similar to me from my knowledge and experience that I didn’t see it as an issue.”

Following the first phase of the Inquiry, when it emerged that Kingspan’s insulation had been present on the building, it said the product had been used “without our knowledge, as part of a combination for which it was not designed, and which Kingspan would never recommend.”

The Inquiry continues.

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