Supply chains and deferring risk: Week 1 of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry

You get what you inspect not what you expect.

I can’t imagine a more dramatic start to the Inquiry this week. It was more difficult than I had imagined to hear how many in the supply chain knew of fire risks associated with the cladding, yet proceeded anyway. How the RBKC building control failed at every level to assure the safety of the refurbishment.

And then, at the last hour, for some of the core participants to plead for immunity from evidence given during the Inquiry to be used against them in criminal proceedings. It appears that Moore-Bick had given them the opportunity to ask for this 15 or 16 months before. The sense of disrespect and anguish this caused the bereaved and survivors is unimaginable. It is hard to reconcile the statement of sorrow about those that died with this last minute action that again adds to the stress and anguish of those most impacted by Grenfell.

It’s important to remember that Grenfell is not an isolated case. There are hundreds of buildings with the same ACM cladding system, thousands or even tens of thousands with other flammable facades and multiple other issues such as non-compliant fire doors and incorrectly installed cavity barriers. (Astoundingly, cavity barriers in Grenfell were intentionally not installed because they knew they would make no difference if a fire got into the cladding system)

Supply chains and deferring risk

I’m astounded by the apparent willingness to simply defer risk to contractors and the supply chain with little oversight or scrutiny or interrogation of performance.

One of my first mentors, a wonderful wise woman Patricia Dillon, drilled into me… You get what you inspect not what you expect…

I don’t care where contractually risk lies, if you do not put in place proactive assurance processes to ensure risk is being well managed, then I would struggle to be convinced that you were either taking safety seriously or managing it competently.

Supply chain relationships are fraught with competing tensions and commercial complexities. Striving to create collaborative relationships amidst these tensions requires sophisticated and adept leadership. Failure to do so can lead to catastrophic failing as in Grenfell.

Anyone involved in the building services industry should be stopping and considering how the entire supply chain are managing risk collectively on projects.

  • Create shared risk registers
  • Collectively consider unintended consequences
  • Speak openly about your challenges and concerns
  • Challenge each other
  • Don’t accept ‘green dashboards’ that present everything as good
  • Work together to identify and mitigate risks
  • Consider how your procurement procedures may be driving unsafe behaviours

If you’re serious about learning from Grenfell, I implore you to take some different actions with your supply chain. Now.

One risk that can never be deferred is Reputational risk. Are you managing this?

Some good threads, resources from week 1

The wonderful Peter Apps from Inside Housing

Robert Booth from the Guardian has done some great pieces. This one is brilliant at explaining the ‘merry-go-round of buck-passing’

Grenfell Tower Supply Chain
Grenfell Tower Supply Chain and Buck Passing

And, of course the BBC Grenfell Podcast returns in it’s new weekly format with Kate Lamble presenting.

These two detailed threads from Jonathan Evans will be interesting too many.

I’ve found following Seraphima Kennedy and Peter Apps Twitter threads during the week invaluable. Thank you.

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