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Moving ductwork safely on site

Michael Brown, design director of UK site equipment manufacturer, Metal and Modular, discusses how to make ducting manoeuvres safe and efficient for HVAC installation teams on site 

Michael Brown, design director of Metal and Modular

Moving ducting around on site is an inevitable element of any commercial HVAC installation and, the larger the site or more complex the project, the more ducting is involved. Often, this can mean manoeuvring sections of ducting in locations congested with other trades and across uneven surfaces. This can be both time-consuming and hazardous, particularly if the materials handling equipment being used was not designed for purpose.

Health & safety risk is not the only issue associated with poor choice of manual handling equipment on HVAC installation sites, either. Productivity can be affected and programme delays can occur if trolleys are difficult to manoeuvre, or can only handle a limited number or size of duct.

Poor choice of manual handling equipment can even affect the quality and performance of the finished installation if ducting is damaged or contaminated from being left on the floor due to limited capacity on the trolley, or allowed to become dusty because the trolley does not offer sufficient protection against the site environment.

It was all of these factors that led the Metal and Modular design team to work collaboratively with customers in the HVAC sector and the hire industry, combining our Auto Brake Trolley know-how with sector specific requirements to create the UK-made Auto Brake Ductwork Trolley which conforms with BS EN1757-3:2002.

Recognising the problem

Ductwork Trolley was a customer that came to us to find out what we could provide because they could find nothing designed specifically for moving ducting around site. Quite rightly, they recognised that ducting is not like other interior fit out materials because it is lightweight and delicate but awkward in size and shape. Meanwhile, the integrity of every length of duct is critical to the integrity of the finished installation and even a small amount of contaminates within the tube could compromise the commissioning process: an onerous and expensive issue.

What this had meant for the customer was that they had been forced to use generic trolleys to move ducting around on site, which not only put the materials at risk of damage, but also put their team at risk of injury. The generic trolleys were not the right dimensions for the ducting and had not been designed to keep the tubes in place, so installers were snagging themselves on the raw edges of duct that had been cut to size, while straining their core by attempting to control the basic trolley and keep their load in place.

Leveraging best practice

When customer collaboration and design work began on the Autobrake Ductwork Trolley, the Metal and Modular team was already part of the way towards developing a suitable trolley, because we had been working on an Auto Brake Trolley range.

One of the key productivity and safety issues with any trolley used on site is the potential for it to roll when unattended or for poor manoeuvrability to create a risk of collisions. Many HVAC installers will have experienced ‘crabbing’ when using trolleys on site, with the trolley veering sideways as they push it forward. This not only creates a collision hazard but also results in musculoskeletal strain for the operator, which can cause injury.

The Auto Brake Trolleys feature ‘deadman’s brakes’; an auto braking system that requires both of the brake levers to be depressed in order to move the unit and ensures the brakes are automatically applied, unless released by an operator. We incorporated this design into the Auto Brake Ducting Trolley because it prevents the risk of accidental rolling or nudging because it is not possible to leave the trolley unattended with the brakes off. We also fitted all-terrain wheels and castors from German manufacturer, Blickle onto the trolley because this prevents crabbing and improves manoeuvrability for improved productivity and reduced risk or injury or collision.

Developing a solution

Alongside the features that had already been in development, the collaboration with customers and their hire provider highlighted a number of areas where design expertise could improve health and safety and ensure installation integrity.

An optional toe guard system has been included in the trolley design for foot and ankle protection, and this also contributes to reduced risk of musculoskeletal disorders.

An adjustable two-tier storage facility allows for the storage of up to 750kg of weight of ductwork tubing, while a system for covering ductwork during storage aids compliance with HVCA guidelines on the internal cleanliness of new ductwork prior to commissioning by protecting materials from dust and damage during storage or transit on site.

Responding to insight

There is a huge difference between fit for purpose and ideal for use, which can enhance productivity and safety on site. This innovation is an example of how understanding the hazards and challenges of duct installation has informed improved performance in materials handling for HVAC installers. 


10 December 2020


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