Exposure to too much of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation can cause sunburn, skin and eye damage and skin cancer. The UV damage accumulated during childhood and adolescence is strongly associated with an increased risk of skin cancer later in life.
Early childhood education and care services have a duty of care to protect children from any harm including UV.
National Regulations require early childhood education and care services to have a sun protection policy (Reg 168 (2)(a)(ii)) including evidence-based guidelines about:
SunSmart have a sample policy which includes current Cancer Council Australia guidelines and recommendations for each state and territory.
UV radiation is invisible energy from the sun and is the main cause of skin cancer. A combination of sun protection measures (hat, clothing, sunscreen, shade and sunglasses) are recommended whenever UV Index levels reach three or above.
Cancer Council Australia’s free SunSmart app shows daily UV levels and sun protection times - a forecast from the Bureau of Meteorology for the time of day UV levels are forecast to reach three or above. Sun protection times are also available in the weather section of the newspaper, at cancer.org.au and myuv.com.au.
Services can monitor the daily sun protection times and notify staff and families by displaying the times at the entrance, at the sign-in sheet, in rooms or via the SunSmart widget on their website.
As UV can’t be seen or felt, it’s important to track the UV levels and sun protection times and not be caught out by weather. If the UV is three or above, regardless of the weather, sun protection is needed.
Good quality shade (Reg 114) can reduce overall exposure to the sun’s UV. When combined with appropriate clothing, hats and sunscreen, children can be well protected from UV when outdoors. It’s important the service has shade in the outdoor space for children to access.
UV reaches us directly from the sun and it can also be scattered by particles in the air and reflected off surfaces such as brick, concrete, glass, sand and water.
Rough, uneven natural surfaces (e.g. grass, tanbark, soil) reflect less UV than smooth, shiny, light-coloured surfaces.
Shade can be natural (Reg 113) (e.g. trees with broad, low and dense canopies), built (e.g. extended verandahs, pergolas) and temporary (umbrellas, tents, canvas).
Educator role modelling of sun protective behaviours is not only important for their own health but also encourages and motivates children to follow their lead. Actions can often be more powerful than words so an educator applying sunscreen or grabbing their hat can have a big influence on children’s behaviours. This is also true for parents - when parents use sun protection such as hats, shade, sunscreen, and clothing, their children are more likely to use these sun protection methods too.
During the sun protection times (whenever the UV level is three or above), ensure staff and children use these 5 sun protection measures for outdoor play and activities.
For further information on sun protection, head to cancer.org.au or call on 13 11 20. Should you need information in another language, call 13 14 50 and ask to be connected to Cancer Council in your language.
(This article has been contributed to by Cancer Council Australia, a recognised not-for-profit organisation which aims to promote cancer-control policies and to reduce the illness caused by cancer in Australia.)