Moderate exposure to ultraviolet light is essential for our health, but larger doses of UV light can damage skin, produce burns, cause premature skin ageing, and in the very worst cases, skin cancer.
Despite last summer being the UK’s joint hottest on record, a recent survey by SC Johnson Professional revealed that a third of respondents who worked outside last summer didn’t apply sun cream whilst on the job, and that only a quarter applied it regularly.
The NHS often issues warnings concerning the dangers of sunburn in childhood, citing it as a factor in increasing the risks of developing skin cancer later in life. Good sun protection habits need to be established at an early stage, thus giving primary schools a key role to play in teaching children about the importance of effective sun protection.
Primary pupils will typically spend far more time outdoors in the summer months, during periods when UV rays will be at their highest. On average, they will be outside for 1.5 hours per school day – sometimes more, if they’re taking part in PE lessons or other outdoor activities.
The issue is a complex one. Does the responsibility for ensuring children are given appropriate UV protection lie with parents or schools? Are parents sufficiently aware of the risks that come with overexposure to UV rays?
The DfE has previously advised schools to take a ‘common sense’ approach to UV protection for pupils, and agree a policy with parents on how sunscreen should be applied to children while they’re at school and in what circumstances.
Employers in the UK are further legally required to ensure their employees don’t suffer harm or injury at work, including potential harms from occupational UV exposure – which means that provisions should be made for teaching staff, too.
Limited budgets and the resourcing needed to draw up a robust school policy can sometimes hinder such efforts, but it’s certainly possible for primary schools to effect significant changes in pupil behaviours by teaching them best practice.
One way of doing this might be to educate them on the UV index, and how it can be used to identify the point at which sun protection should be applied (namely UV level 3 or above).
At SC Johnson Professional, we’d recommend that schools adopt the following ‘5 S’ approach to sun safety, while incorporating the use of sun protection creams to protect their pupils:
1. SLIP on sun protective clothing
Clothing can be one of the most effective barriers, to UV rays, so encourage pupils to keep covered up.
2. SLOP on sun cream
Apply a broad spectrum, high SPF sun cream 20 minutes before initial exposure, re-applying every two hours as needed
3. SLAP on a hat and neck protection
Where possible, use hats that feature ear and neck protection.
4. SLIDE on some sunglasses
A pair of high-quality wrap-around sunglasses will help protect children’s eyes.
5. SHADE from sun where possible
Encourage pupils to stay in shaded areas wherever possible, particularly between 11am and 3pm.
Various avenues are available to help schools implement effective sun safety policies – raising awareness is an important first step.
Chris Brooks is technical product manager at SC Johnson Professional; further details of SC Johnson Professional’s sun protection creams, information packs and activities for schools can be found at debgroup.com/uk/education.