WA // School sun protection fallacies
This year marks 18 years of the SunSmart Schools program in Western Australia. In that time, schools have worked hard to maintain high standards in the program – for good reason. Skin cancer is the most costly and prevalent cancer in Australia and is preventable through reducing exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
Here’s our response to some of the common fallacies around sun protection in schools.
1. Our school is SunSmart because we enforce ‘no hat no play’
SunSmart and Cancer Council WA discourage a policy of children missing out on play and physical activity because they do not have a hat. It is recommended that children aged from 5 to 17 years should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day, but most do not get this much. Students who have forgotten their hat or cannot provide their own can be accommodated by ‘no SunSmart hat, play in the shade’ rule or by schools having a supply of spare hats for their use.
Also, an effective sun protection policy is more than just wearing a hat. Cancer Council WA recommends that when the UV Index is 3 or above, people protect themselves in 5 ways (slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat, seek shade and slide on sunglasses). Effective sun protection takes a whole school approach and considers staff, parents, shade provision, uniforms and accommodates special events such as carnivals.
2. Caps are OK
Caps are not OK. They do not provide adequate protection from UV radiation. The areas where skin cancers commonly occur such as as the ears, back of neck and side of the face remain exposed. Hats suitable in schools are legionnaire, bucket and broad-brimmed styles. Click here for more details on sun protective hats.
Caps are NOT sun protective!
3. Sun protection is just for kids
We often hear from schools who struggle to introduce sun protective hats because staff refuse to wear SunSmart hats themselves. As a school teacher, you are required to role model. Kids are quick to spot the ridiculous double standard of the bare headed teacher who tells them to wear a hat. Staff also need to protect themselves from UV radiation as part of the occupational health and safety requirements of the school.
4. Sun protection is only needed in terms 1 and 4
Sun protection is required when the UV Index is 3 or above. Our advice to wear hats is based on guidance from the World Health Organization and from Australian experts in the fields of skin cancer, vitamin D and bone density. They agree that sun protection is required the UV Index is 3 or above.
For areas north of Perth, winter days will on average exceed 3 at midday. As such, these schools should encourage students and staff to wear hats year-round.
Perth and all areas to the south can experience average midday UV readings of less than 3 in June and July. For these two months only, it is acceptable to go without sun protection while outside. It is up to individual schools as to whether hat wearing is required during these times.
A school rule of using sun protection only in terms 1 and 4 will put students at risk of skin cancer. In April and September (terms 2 and 3), the average noon UV Index is 7 in Perth. A hard thing to get used to is that UV is not the same as heat, so it’s a big mistake to base sun protection choices on the temperature for the day. This is why the SunSmart message is cover up when the UV is 3 or above – it’s got nothing to do with heat.
5. Sun protection is up to parents. Or, children should know to use sun protection
Compared with adults, children are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of UV radiation and have less capacity to make informed decisions. Children rely on adults to provide resources and reminders for sun protection, especially as UV radiation peaks during school hours (noon). Schools have a duty of care to protect students and staff from foreseeable harm. UV radiation is a class one carcinogen and exposure to it is a foreseeable harm and can be avoided. Compensation claims for work-related skin damage are increasing but can be avoided by enforcing sun protection.
6. Why join the SunSmart program rather than go it alone?
• Peace of mind – Cancer Council endorsement of your policy and procedures lets you know you have it right.
• Comprehensiveness – have you thought of everything? There is much more to sun protection than a No Hat No Play rule.
• Current information – access accurate, current information on sun protection issues such as sunscreen allergies, nanoparticles, vitamin D, occupational safety and health and duty of care.
• Support – you get information about how other schools have dealt with particular problems, free teaching resources, access to competitions and discounts on sun protection items at the Cancer Council shop.
• Information – Cancer Council speakers can talk to parents and staff about the risk of skin cancer and the value of good sun protection policies and procedures.
• Critical mass – formally joining the program allows Cancer Council to count your school in the program membership. In turn, higher participation rates add weight to our representations to the Department of Education, helps convince other schools to join the program and demonstrates your commitment to reducing the burden of skin cancer in the community.
If you’re not sure what is sun protection fact or fiction, or just need some backing up, contact Cancer Council WA.