Majority of shade over toddler pools in Melbourne does not provide sufficient sun protection

Monday 16 December, 2013

Toddlers at higher risk of sunburn than adults under same shade structure

A new joint study by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) and Cancer Council Victoria has found that shade structures available over toddler wade pools at outdoor swimming pools in Melbourne provide only partial sun protection.

Lead researcher Dr Peter Gies of ARPANSA said:  “This research highlights that the amount of protection provided by shade structures varies considerably from a protection factor (PF) of just 2 to 16.[1]  Only substantial shade structures provide sufficient sun protection, which is defined as PF 15.[2] Very few shade structures in this study achieved this level of sun protection.”

“The data also shows that the PF provided by a single shade structure varies, depending on where you stand beneath the structure. The closer you are to the water, the less UV protection provided. This suggests that young children playing in toddler pools would be receiving greater UV exposures than adults who are watching them under the same shade structure.”

Adolescence and childhood are critical periods during which exposure to UV radiation is more likely to contribute to skin cancer in later life.

Jen Makin, SunSmart Manager warns; "Staying under shade can reduce your overall exposure to UV by up to 75%. However, this means that 25% or more of UV still reaches you, from reflection off the sky or surrounding surfaces. The most effective shade occurs when exposure to the sky is eliminated, such as in dense forest or low wide overhanging structures. As a rule of thumb, if you can see the sky, you are less than fully protected.These latest findings act as a timely warning to parents not to be complacent about sun protection during the summer holidays by relying on shade alone. Always use a combination of sun protection measures including sunscreen, broad-brimmed hats, rashies and sunglasses together with available shade.”

The research shows that the amount of UV protection provided by shade structures depends upon a number of factors such as location, size, materials used, time of day, position and distance below the shade structure. Higher protection factors were generally for larger structures or where the shade had other structures nearby.

Ms Makin said: “We encourage outdoor settings, such as pools and sports clubs, to increase and improve the available shade in order to contribute to sun protection and reduce UV exposure for their members. However, unless the shade structures are carefully designed they may not provide sufficient protection.”

Ms Makin cautions that the process to build adequate shade will take time so her message to parents this summer is simple.

"We are warning parents to be vigilant over the holiday period and to get in the habit of checking the UV Alert for the daily sun protection times each day on sunsmart.com.au, via the free SunSmart app or in the weather section of the daily newspaper. While pools are major hot spots for sunburn, it’s the same sun, wherever you are outside.  Remember that in summer, UV levels reach high to extreme even on cooler or cloudy days. Protect your family by using a combination of sun protection measures including long sleeved clothing, sunscreen, a hat, shade and sunglasses during the sun protection times. Children often copy those around them and learn by imitation so if you adopt sun protection behaviours, your kids are more likely to do the same.”

"There is no need to stay inside, just play it safe when you are having fun in the sun. Five easy steps now can help prevent a lot of suffering later."

For more information about sun protection, visit sunsmart.com.au.

About the Research

This study assessed the effectiveness of shade structures over 16 toddler wade pools at swimming centres around Melbourne in relation to their provision of protection against ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The UV protection was measured using a combination of UV sensitive polysulfone film to derive an average value during the middle of the day (1–2 P.M.) and handheld UV meters to derive the time variability in UV protection between 11 A.M. and 3 P.M.

Gies, P., J. Makin, S. Dobbinson, et al (2013) Shade Provision for Toddlers at Swimming Pools in Melbourne. Photochem Photobiol 89; 968-973.


[1] PF (protection factor) is the ratio of UV levels in the open sun, compared with the UV levels under shade. So for example, if UV levels are twice as high without the shade, the PF is 2.

[2] Parsons, P. G., R. Neale, P. Wolski and A. Green (1998) The shady side of solar protection. Med. J. Aust. 168, 327–330.

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