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Research project investigates quality of shade provision in NSW playgrounds

Research project investigates quality of shade provision in NSW playgrounds
April 8, 2021

University of Southern Queensland researchers Dr Nathan Downs and Professor Alfio Parisi are investigating the availability and quality of shade for ultraviolet radiation and heat protection in playgrounds across NSW.

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 the state.

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.

Explaining that the investigation had the potential to significantly benefit children and their families,

Dr Downs advised “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.

“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.

Dr Hacker noted “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.”

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, commenting “the community feedback we receive from survey participants will inform our recommendations.”

Professor 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, adding “our team and our international collaborators are focused on reducing melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer rates here in Australia and abroad.

“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.”

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

For more information about the project, or to take part in the community survey, visit

Image: Dr Nathan Downs 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.

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