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Building industry needs culture change to put safety first, Grenfell probe finds

Review head Dame Judith Hackitt says her interim findings flagged up a focus on cost-cutting.

A “culture change” is needed to ensure safety is prioritised over costs in the construction industry, a probe ordered after the Grenfell Tower fire has found.

Building regulations are confusing and the profession suffers from “competence” issues, Dame Judith Hackitt said as interim findings from her review were due to be published.

The former health and safety chief has been assessing the adequacy of current guidelines in the wake of the disaster, which raised fears that unclear industry standards had allowed dangerous material to be installed on towers.

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The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry attended the Grenfell Tower National Memorial Service at St Paul’s Cathedral (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

A focus on cost-cutting was “one of the factors” flagged up by the investigation, Dame Judith told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

But she said she “hadn’t looked at the detail” of exactly what should be recommended to make sure that high-rise blocks were built safely, such as by adding fire sprinklers.

This will be examined in the next phase of the review, which hopes to rebuild the regulatory system and improve safety standards.

Dame Judith told the programme: “Unless we achieve that culture change where people are doing things because we believe, and we are all committed, to making buildings safer rather than simply doing things at least cost and so on, those are some of the changes in culture that need to drive this, rather than newer and simpler regulations.”

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A silent walk to honour those who died in the Grenfell Tower fire marked the six month anniversary (Yui Mok/PA)

It is suspected that pressure to drive down the price of refurbishing Grenfell Tower led to cheaper, flammable material being installed on its exterior.

Seventy-one people died when a fire tore through the west London block on June 14, while a subsequent safety operation identified hundreds more buildings with similar cladding systems.

Dame Judith added that the regulations which guide how buildings are constructed were “probably” too complicated in their current form.

She said: “I think it’s also the case that when regulations are complex, rather than that complication giving people everything they need to know, it makes it quite difficult to penetrate that complexity and truly understand what they are required to do.”

Regulations themselves were relatively simple, but were accompanied by vast guidance documents detailing different areas that were hard to dip into individually, she said.

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It is suspected that pressure to drive down the price of refurbishing Grenfell Tower led to cheaper, flammable material being installed on its exterior (PA)

She continued: “Clearly, there is an opportunity to make this much simpler and to guide people to the right answer rather than presenting them with all that information.”

Local authorities have been tussling with central Government over who will foot the bill for fire safety improvements recommended following the blaze.

Council chiefs have said funding should be provided by Whitehall to cover measures such as the retrofitting of sprinklers and the removal of dangerous cladding.

Dame Judith, a former chairwoman of the Health and Safety Executive, said she believed it was a “shared responsibility” but added: “I think one of the things we have to do in this next phase is be very clear about who is responsible for what.”

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