Grenfell landlords ‘did not listen’ to caretakers’ workload complaints

Paul Steadman, estate services assistant, gave evidence to the inquiry into the June 2017 blaze in west London.

Grenfell Tower
Grenfell Tower

Grenfell Tower’s landlords did not listen to workload complaints from caretakers who carried out health and safety checks on their buildings, an inquiry has heard.

Paul Steadman, estate services assistant (ESA) for the Lancaster West Estate at the time of the Grenfell Tower fire, claimed he and colleagues were only allowed 30 to 60 minutes to carry out inspections by the now defunct Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO).

Another caretaker colleague, Robert Regan, said ESAs had too much work which he claimed was “akin to cutting corners”.

Extracts from Mr Steadman’s written statements were read out as he faced questions at the inquiry into the June 2017 blaze in west London on Thursday.

In one July 2018 statement to the police, Mr Steadman said: “I feel that some of the caretakers have to fit in too much work for their day to allow; one caretaker has 40 blocks.

“The TMO only allowed the caretakers 30-60 minutes to check everything.

“The fire checks require that you inspect everything, such as the fire doors and emergency lighting.

“It is better now that it is more thorough, but the problem is having the time to do the checks, as they have cut the caretakers down but the amount of work has gone up.

“When I first started, there were 17 or 18 caretakers on the north of the borough.

“When caretakers left, retired or got sacked, they didn’t replace them, and everyone just got more and more work.”

He added: “We have complained about the fact that we need more people, but the TMO don’t listen.”

The inquiry heard that Mr Steadman’s role involved monthly health and safety checks on his estate buildings, which included fire extinguishers, fire alarms, and door closers.

“Everything got checked properly,” he said.

Mr Steadman added that, on a building like Grenfell Tower, this could take two or three hours.

These came on top of weekly checks, which took place at Grenfell every Friday morning.

Mr Steadman told the inquiry that the 30 to 60-minute allowance applied to both weekly and monthly checks, but he was not sure who set those timings.

Asked if he raised concerns about having insufficient time to make the necessary checks in relation to Grenfell, he replied: “All the time”, adding that this was expressed to both line managers and supervisors.

Counsel to the inquiry Andrew Kinnier QC asked Mr Steadman: “Did they do much about the concerns that you raised?”

“No,” Mr Steadman replied, adding that it was brought up in caretakers’ meetings.

In another July 2019 statement to the inquiry, he wrote: “The only concern I recall raising was whether we had too much work to do; however this would never stop me conducting my fire safety checks thoroughly as I considered them to be very important.”

Mr Steadman’s role also involved responding to any relevant actions identified by a fire risk assessment (FRA) carried out by the TMO’s risk assessor, Carl Stokes.

The inquiry has previously heard that a backlog of fire safety actions on TMO buildings lasted for years.

In a statement, Mr Steadman wrote: “Things were a bit more relaxed before Carl Stokes was used, but that was then when the pressure was put on the caretakers, and they then had more work to do.

“We did tell them that we just couldn’t cope with our own job, the FRAs, the meter readings, the walkabouts and the inspections, and we only work seven hours a day.

“We’ve been complaining to the TMO for the last four or five years that we haven’t got enough time, or enough people, but they just don’t listen.”

The inquiry heard how Mr Steadman’s job involved identifying and reporting necessary repairs, but it was not his role to carry them out.

From about 2015 he was given a personal digital assistant (PDA) device to log his required building checks, but told the inquiry that “the app” being used was “rubbish”, explaining that he had issues with repair reports.

Commenting on the system, Mr Regan, who held a floating ESA role for the area that covered Grenfell Tower, said in his statement that repairs to be raised could vary between the size of the building and time allowed to inspect it.

He added: “This did inevitably lead to many jobs getting either left or not raised due to other commitments pushed on to the ESAs.

“I felt that the ESAs had too much work, which I consider akin to cutting corners.”

He told the inquiry that caretaker patches got “bigger and bigger” over the years”, adding that he would ensure he looked at resident safety “hotspots”.

“What happens if you find 25 jobs? You’re stuck in that block…. you can’t walk out. You can’t just go ‘Oh, I’ll put them on later’, you’ve got to do it now,” he said.
Mr Regan added: “If you’re lucky, you get in and you get out without too much delay and you cover as much as you can.

“The intention is to cover everything, but that isn’t always and wasn’t always the case, so you covered the really important parts and hope, and that was it. That’s all you can do. What can you do?”

He also told the inquiry that training given to him and colleagues was “piecemeal” .

“The fire training which we had yearly was repetitive,” he said, adding: “To me it wasn’t a full package, it was as they felt you needed it.”

In his statement Mr Regan claimed that before the Grenfell fire he had not received training on smoke control, dry risers, evacuation, flat entrance doors or FRAs.

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