Good lighting on stairways is
a top priority when operating a club, bar or restaurant to
Why good lighting on
the stairs reduces liability risk for leisure venues
Parker’s case provides comfort to leisure venues -
clubs, hotels and restaurants that good lighting on the
stairs will help fulfil their duty of care to protect their
guests from injury.
The case is Parker v City of Bankstown RSL Community
Club Ltd  NSWCA 246, a unanimous decision of the
Court of Appeal, Supreme Court of New South Wales (Macfarlan
JA with whom Simpson JA and Sackville AJA agreed). The court
upheld the decision of the trial judge - Adamson J 
NSWSC 772 that the Club was not negligent when Parker fell
down the stair, because the strip lighting on the stair
provided adequate warning of the presence of the stair.
Parker’s case – the facts and the
Mrs Parker was attending the Christmas
dance concert held by a dance school, to watch her young
daughters perform. It was held in the auditorium of the
Bankstown RSL Club on a Saturday afternoon. Mrs Parker and
her family were seated at a table on the highest of three
tiers, away from the stage. They had a good view of the
stage because the middle tier was one step down, and the
lower tier another step down. Several hundred people were in
Mrs Parker was making her way through the
tables to collect her children when she turned, and on her
version, failed to see the step down to the middle tier, and
fell heavily. She was taken to hospital in severe pain, and
underwent an operation upon the radial head of the bone in
her right arm.
At the time of the incident, the overhead
house lights were down because a performance was underway on
the stage. There was strip lighting on the inside edge of
the step between the riser and the tread (at a 45 degree
angle to both). There was also a wide metal strip on the
nosing of the step. Strip lighting is a series of small
lights in a plastic sheath in a continuous run. Many people
know it as the strip affixed to the floor on aircraft aisles
which is used as emergency lighting.
Factually, the case
turned upon: (1) whether the strip lighting was on; and (2)
whether the strip lighting was adequate to warn of the
- The trial judge was satisfied that the Club had
switched the strip lighting on
- The trial judge concluded that the strip lighting
was adequate to warn of the stair - on the basis of
expert evidence, and on the basis that Mrs Parker was
familiar with the auditorium layout, that she had
navigated a passageway between the tables, that the
strip lighting was visible about a metre away, and that
a metal strip had been installed.
The trial judge concluded that the Club had fulfilled
its duty of care and that Mrs Parker had sustained
injury because she had failed to take reasonable care
for her own safety. Therefore, her claim failed.
What safety precautions should leisure venues
take for stairs?
Stairs are an obvious
safety hazard. Clubs, hotels, restaurants and other
leisure venue operators owe a duty of care to their
guests to make using the stairs as safe as possible.
Leisure venue operators should consider taking these
safety precautions for stairs:
- Install strip lighting to illuminate the stairs.
Choose high brightness, not standard brightness
- Strip lighting comes in strips of 1 to 4 metres
- ensure that all of the strips are connected.
- A single on /off switch is best to avoid
arguments that the strip might be partially switched
off. In Parker’s case, the club had a single
switch labelled ‘RISERS’.
- A metal strip should be attached at the nose of
the step tier which should be reflective to enhance
the effect of strip lighting.
- Although not mentioned as required in
Parker’s case, a sign warning - Mind the stairs
- would assist.
- Although not mentioned as relevant in
Parker’s case, adequate barriers and banisters
around the stairs would assist.
- The trial judge found that Mrs Parker had
probably tripped upon a bag or other obstacle that a
guest had placed on the floor, rather than falling
down the stair. Mrs Parker did not allege that the
Club or dance school was negligent by failing to
make an announcement that guests should stow their
belongings under chairs and not block the
passageways. Venue operators should consider making
such an announcement in auditoriums, and conducting
‘walk-throughs’ to check compliance. This would also
help for fire safety.
- Allied to the desirability of keeping
passageways clear is an obligation on the venue
operator to not place tables and chairs in a
position where they might obscure or obstruct a
passageway. Again, this would help for fire safety.
- Function venues should have a checklist to be
completed for every function, which includes that
all safety lights, such as strip lighting, is
switched on and inspected before the function, and
is inspected during the function. A record should be
made on the checklist of the time this is done and
who did the checking.
- When an incident occurs, an incident report form
needs to be completed. This was done in Parker’s
case, but it was incomplete because it was not
clear whether the source of the comments on the
incident report was a witness to the fall or Mrs