Interviewing Martin Kersse: Mast Climbers Insights From A Bricklaying Expert

In our most recent interview, we had the privilege of speaking with Martin Kersse, widely recognised as Oz in the bricklaying industry virtually, who has shared with us invaluable insights into the challenges faced by bricklayers when using scaffolding and the advantages of employing mast climbers, particularly for multi-storey buildings.

About Martin Kersse

Martin’s journey started as an apprentice on the OD before pursuing bricklaying at college. Swiftly advancing, he assumed roles as a charge and foreman, overseeing significant projects for major subcontractors like Lester Rose, where he contributed to notable undertakings such as Bluewater and Touchwood. Subsequently, he transitioned to Laing O’Rourke, a renowned main contractor, taking on the role of contracts manager with a primary focus on brick and block work. He’s shifted gears in recent years, directing his expertise towards training and education.

Today, he offers his valuable services as a freelance trainer through assessment centres, specialising in MVQs and short course training, encompassing all facets of the bricklaying field. Martin’s invaluable experience offers a fresh perspective on optimising bricklaying practices, presenting a vision for a more convenient and efficient way to approach bricklaying projects with the use of mast climbers.

THE INTERVIEW

Here are a few of the highlights from the interview with Martin:

 

Could you paint a picture of the experience of using scaffolding for brickwork?

Martin: Before we had no options but to use scaffold. It was almost always progressive scaffold. So progressive scaffolding from a bricklayer’s perspective isn’t such a bad thing, because what you’ll be doing is you’ll be building a lift of brickwork or blockwork off a scaffold… But then, as time went on, when he was working on multi-story buildings as such, there was never enough time in a programme to just develop the scaffold or progress the scaffold. So it became a fairly common thing for the scaffolds to be pre-erected.

Now, if you had a slightly bad contractor or subcontractor, it would be pre-erected and your brick loads would be expected to build through the scaffold. So building through the scaffold means you reach up and you reach down, which, from my perspective, is a recipe for disaster. One, you’re overreaching, and two, you’re what we call nosebleeding, both of them culminate in shoddy work, in basically not being able to keep control of the quality because you often can’t see what you’re doing if your nosebleed, you often can’t see if you’re inside the line when you’re overreaching. This became apparent when people were being asked to build up, say, 24, 25, 26 courses.

Generally, bricklayers will build up about 21 courses, which is a sort of comfortable height. So then other sorts of scaffolding, sort of accessories, shall we say, become a part of use in the scaffold. So you’d have hop ups and you’d have hop downs and things like that, they cause their own problems because if you have hop ups and have hop downs, you’re working off of two bolts and things like that, which you shouldn’t really ever be doing as working off two bolts. Plus, when you have hop-ups, you have the risk of falling back, so you end up having to put in handrails or getting away. If you have hop downs, you have the risk of falling back into the work and tripping over.

So I’m painting a fairly negative attitude from a bricklayer’s perspective to scaffolding on multi-story buildings because for me it’s just uncomfortable. And in a recent project, there’re different heights for the scaffolds. So as you were going around, the scaffolds weren’t at the same height, so ultimately you had half lifts, you had sort of different lifts. It was just an absolute nightmare and it resulted in really bad workmanship and not being able to keep the consistency of the coasting all the way around the building. And I just feel other options would have been better in these situations.

How would a bricklayer feel to be working in that type of environment?

Martin: Sometimes the scaffolding was basically when they lifted the scaffold to try and tie up with the different elevations, the scaffold was so low, and sometimes you were hitting your head on the scaffold above.

As we all know, 99% of jobs now, you’re going to have hard hats on, so you’re going to be walking along and you’re going to be hitting your head on scaffold clips. If you take your hat off, you’re likely to cut your head open. If you keep your hat on, you’re just going to be banging into it all the time. So that’s when I’m saying uncomfortable because you’re trying to duck down while you’re laying bricks.

Also, sometimes the scaffold, you found yourself at a height where you had to try and reach for it to avoid having a lower lift. And that’s what I concurred with earlier, that then you’re at risk of reducing the amount of quality in your work because you’re overstretching. When you’re overreaching in brickwork, what is liable to happen is because you can’t see the line the brickwork becomes what we call in the game hard, which means it’s falling out. So what will happen is it will belly. When you then go above it and you start the next lift of brickwork, it will become apparent that there’s a belly in it because you’ll have a grid line or you’ll have a line off the inside work, or saying to the outside, so we have cavities.

Are teething problems still impacting the reputation of mast climbers?

Martin: They are to a fashion. Even though we’re 20 years down the line and mast climbers have progressed massively, I often think that one of the teething problems can be eradicated by the correct selection. So there were teething problems, but again, they may be teething problems that could have been avoided by correct selection.

When I look at mast climbers now, I feel if you’ve got a building that lends itself to using them. I can’t think of any reason why I’d rather have a scaffold. Ultimately, if you’ve got a scaffold, you’ve got straight away you’ve got at least four, five problems. One, is access. So getting to and from the person a bricklayer as such, to get where they want to be, whether they’re walking up ladders. Also causing a risk of injury and falling down… And there’s access for the materials. So you now rely on loading bays. You can’t have a loading bay every sort of two metres or something. You can’t use HUDs because they’ve been outlawed, so you’re trying to potentially either walk them with the brick holders or you’re having to bury them around.

You’ve ultimately got another problem that you have getting the scaffold, as I said, regulated. So you’re laying at the optimum height and you’re not overstretching or you’re not laying at nosebleeds, you’re not stretching down all of them. Problems are eradicated. If you’ve got a mast climber, you’re always working at the optimum height. You can load it out on the floor, and take it up to where you want it. You’ve got no problem with trying to go through ledgers and transoms and braces that are all going to be in your way when you’re trying to load out.

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