It’s official. January 2018 was the hottest month ever on record in New Zealand. And in a country that already has a depleted ozone layer, this can only mean one thing – an even further increased risk of skin cancers and sun-related health issues.
Our prevalence of melanoma is the highest in the world.
So it has to be of considerable concern that a recent Otago of University study found that 95 per cent of playgrounds in the greater Wellington region did not provide adequate shade for users – and it is an observation that has been echoed around the country.
One of the lead researchers of the study, Ryan Gage, said that while playgrounds are obviously popular spaces for families during summer, they are simply not providing enough protection from the sun’s harsh UV rays. So why is such a serious health and safety risk being seemingly overlooked?
“There appears to be less funding support for shade development in schools and outdoor recreation settings in New Zealand. In response to our surveys, both schools and local government councils said that cost is a key barrier for shade development.”
But this explanation is simply not good enough says Megan Cummins, Managing Director of Fresco Shades NZ.
“We have a duty of care to protect our kids who are very vulnerable to UV from the sun. We worry about them falling off play equipment or even climbing trees, but it’s just as important to focus on protecting them from skin cancer later in life.”
But before we all just start to retreat indoors when the sun is shining its brightest, Ryan points out that there is of course a greater purpose to playing outside.
”Improving usage of outdoor spaces like playgrounds is beneficial because outdoor play is associated with improved mental and physical health.Ryan GageLead Researcher
So what can local councils, and also schools, do in order to ensure children are still able to enjoy the outdoors, without the concern of damaging sun exposure? Ryan says the solution is relatively simple – an adoption of a sun protection policy which includes shade development and maintenance.
“Local government are responsible for maintaining safe playgrounds and other outdoor spaces, and are also obligated to protect public health and safety, so they are in a good position to make a difference.
“For schools, an important component of shade policies is encouraging children to eat their lunch under shade. Also, making sure that the shade is installed in areas most popular with children is crucial, like the playground and seating areas near courts.”
And it is a sentiment Megan agrees with.
“With a heat wave (like the one we have just experienced), it sometimes becomes impossible to sit out in the sun, let alone for kids to play outside on playgrounds – so shade coverings that block all the UV and reduce heat and glare are essential. Plus they provide cover when it rains, and we have had a lot of that lately too!
“For schools, shade cover attached to classroom blocks not only provides a great environment for children, but it also keeps the adjoining classrooms cooler in summer – we have actually had teachers comment that pupils are much more focused in a cooler classroom. And with the low winter sun, there is still plenty of light and warmth in winter.”
However it’s important to note that not all shade is created equal and Megan says it is critical to consider the type of covering required.
“For example, can it span wide spaces, is it versatile, easy to clean and low maintenance? It also needs to be quiet in the rain, and comfortable to sit under in the heat of the day. Obviously you want it to last the distance and most critically, you must ensure it blocks UV radiation.
“Look for well-established companies and for members of a professional group such as OFPANZ (The Outdoor Fabric Products Association of NZ), of which Fresco Shades is a member.”