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Keeping kids safe at playgrounds: Research project to shed light on shade

University of Southern Queensland researchers are investigating the availability and quality of shade for UV and heat protection in playgrounds across NSW.

The playground has long been a popular spot for kids on a warm, sunny day, but it can also be dangerous.

Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world, with children the most vulnerable to the ultraviolet radiation that causes it.

University of Southern Queensland researchers Dr Nathan Downs and Professor Alfio Parisi are investigating the availability and quality of shade for UV and heat protection in playgrounds across New South Wales.

They are carrying out the project with lead researchers at QUT for the Cancer Institute NSW, which leads the NSW Skin Cancer Prevention Strategy to reduce the incidence of skin cancer in NSW.

Dr Downs and Professor Parisi have taken leading roles in developing techniques to provide quantifiable measurements of shade, as part of their broader aim to improve the use of our outdoor spaces, parks and playgrounds.

Dr Downs said the investigation had the potential to significantly benefit children and their families.

“Children need to spend time at playgrounds and outdoors for their development. But their skin is especially sensitive to direct sunlight, and they are less aware of the dangers of UV exposure. So it’s vital that there is a sufficient amount of shade at parks and playgrounds,” Dr Downs said.

“Shade is one of the most effective and easiest ways to protect from the sun, and can reduce exposure to UV rays along with good quality clothing, hats, sunscreen, sunglasses, and exposure timing – avoiding the sun when UV is highest.

“Within this project, we will be investigating and benchmarking solar ultraviolet radiation exposure risk, shade provision and public use of the playground environments in local government and school districts across New South Wales.

“This will involve virtual shade mapping and providing new methods for real time assessments of local ultraviolet protection factors and heat index underneath trees and nearby buildings.”

QUT has almost a decade of research and policy advice experience from the Cool and Covered project which combines a multidisciplinary team including health, design and built environment researchers.

QUT public health sun-safety researcher Dr Elke Hacker said the team was inviting people to give feedback through an online survey about their needs and preferences in the public areas they visit.

“Input from the community who are users of playgrounds and parks is crucial to this project being able to improve access to shade and greater protection from excessive sun exposure,” Dr Hacker said.

“To ensure community members have a say in shaping their playgrounds we have launched a short, 10-minute survey that is open until May 31. To take part in the survey, click here.”

QUT design researcher Dean Brough said the project aims to improve in practical ways the amount of shade whether it be with trees or structures in playgrounds in parks.

“The community feedback we receive from survey participants will inform our recommendations,” Mr Brough said.

University of Southern Queensland’s Professor Alfio Parisi said he hoped the outcomes from their work in NSW would be used for similar projects around the world and help combat the prevalence of skin cancer.

“Our team and our international collaborators are focused on reducing melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer rates here in Australia and abroad,” he said.

“We are continuing to investigate methods that will assist members of the community by developing new measures for assessing sun-protective strategies and providing advice that can be adopted to more effectively schedule exposure periods in the sun.”

Find out more information about the project, or take part in the community survey here.

man in playground in front of the sun
Dr Nathan Downs is pictured holding a Whole Sky Imager, a device that will be used in the investigation to benchmark shade in NSW playgrounds with the Cancer Institute NSW.