…but it hasn’t gone mad. Safety of maintenance staff was the driving force behind this LED installation in the City of Westminster. Mark Burgess went up west to pay the scheme a visit

When LEDs are installed, it’s usually because someone wants to save a few bob on their electricity bill. Another, less frequently mentioned, reason is that the solid state light sources will save a few more bob because you won’t have to replace them very often.

But there’s also a non-financial benefit of reduced maintenance: safety. Many luminaires are in hard-to-reach areas and maintenance staff may end up teetering on ladders or scaffolding to change the lamps.

The LEDs in the handrails eliminated maintenance problems

The LEDs in the handrails eliminated maintenance problems

Safety was one of the reasons the lighting for a Victorian staircase in the City of Westminster was upgraded. The stairs, in Essex Street, are frequently used as a route from Temple tube station to the Royal Courts of Justice.

But what will be seen as really satisfying at this project is that only LEDs could have created the final solution. The form factor, the maintenance, the light distribution, the robustness of the fittings are all unique to LED technology. The LEDs put light exactly and uniformly where it’s needed without glare. They also solve the difficult and expensive problem of maintaining the lighting in a narrow, steep and dark stairwell.

A step in the right direction

Not only have the lighting columns at the top and bottom of the stairwell been replaced, the lighting for the staircase itself has been upgraded. The original scheme consisted of a single 70W CDO-TT mounted three to four metres above the stairs on the wall. Maintenance staff would get to the fitting using a ladder placed precariously on the steps.

The prismatic lens and reflectors face down, reducing glare

The prismatic lens and reflectors face down, reducing glare

Acknowledging that the lighting was potentially hazardous to maintain, Mark Parklin, technical lighting officer, and Dave Franks, principal lighting engineer, at the City of Westminster were presented with a challenge: to effectively light the steps while trying to reduce energy use, boost light levels and increase safety.

Illuminated handrail

The solution to their problems turned out to be the Garda LED illuminated handrail from DW Windsor. The contemporary, grade 316 stainless steel fitting has a glare-free asymmetric beam because the prismatic lens and reflectors face directly downwards, unlike many similar products.

The scheme improves safety for the public and maintenance staff

The scheme improves safety for the public and maintenance staff

Project consultant and contractor Westminster Transerv worked with DW Windsor, which designed, manufactured and installed a system for the steps.

The modules are vandal-resistant, with tamper-resistant fastenings and impact-resistant polycarbonate lenses. They are also water proof to IP66. Light output is a neutral 4000K with a colour rendering index of 75. Service life is expected to exceed 60,000 hours.

Ticking all the boxes

DW Windsor project manager Rob Brookes says: ‘Because of the bespoke nature of the scheme, including acute angles and aging brickwork, the Victorian stairwell proved testing at times. We overcame this by designing custom-made lengths, including a 100mm-long illuminated section to smoothly follow the contours of the wall.’

A false colour rendering of the scheme

A false colour rendering of the scheme

Dave Franks says: ‘The illuminated handrail has enabled us to effectively and safely light Essex steps while reducing the carbon footprint of the site through reducing maintenance cycles. We are extremely happy because this solution has ticked all the boxes: improving public and workforce safety, reducing environmental impact and it operates with our central management system.’

The final installation is controlled as part of the Westminster Leafnut system using a Mag-Node.

Rob Brookes sums up the significance of the Essex Steps project when he says: ‘The resulting scheme raises the question of whether integrating light into our architecture may become more commonplace in the future.’


The original scheme consisted of a single 70W CDO-TT mounted on the wall three or four metres above the stairs. Changing the lamp involved a precarious trip up a ladder balanced on the stairs.
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