Benchmarking shade in NSW playgrounds
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Australia.1 Almost all skin cancers are caused by overexposure to the sun’s UV radiation, and children are particularly at risk.2
The Cancer Institute NSW has pledged to champion the role of trees and shade in preventing skin cancer and has completed a project to benchmark shade in NSW playgrounds.
High sun exposure in the first 10 years of life more than doubles the risk of developing melanoma skin cancer.3
Our aim is to reduce childhood exposure to the harmful effects of UV radiation as a priority of the NSW Skin Cancer Prevention Strategy. It is part of our commitment to help prevent the next generation of adults in NSW from experiencing skin cancer.
High quality and well-designed shade in our playgrounds can reduce children’s exposure to harmful UV radiation by up to 75%.4
What is the benchmarking shade in NSW playgrounds project?
The purpose of the project was to understand the answer to a simple question: how shady, sun safe and cool are NSW playgrounds?
This project is a first of its kind in Australia to provide comprehensive state-wide data about shade and sun protection in our playgrounds.
Together with our research partners at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and the University of Southern Queensland, we explored what was the availability and quality of natural and built shade in NSW council and school playgrounds.
The project team also spoke with industry professionals about barriers and enablers for good quality shade and explored achievable targets for shade coverage over play equipment and seating.
With these insights, the Cancer Institute NSW is working with others across the sector to inform future initiatives related to shade in schools and public spaces. The Cancer Institute NSW recommends at least 70% coverage of quality shade over play equipment and nearby seating, with at least 45% of this tree shade.
A study from 2014 found inequities in the shade available in playgrounds in lower socioeconomic neighbourhoods of Sydney.5
What are the benefits?
The shade benchmarking project informs the development of solutions to ensure NSW playgrounds are more shady, sun safe and cool.
High quality built and natural shade in playgrounds not only helps reduce UV radiation by up to 75%, but also helps keep children cool while outdoors and protect them from extreme heat.
Common surfaces used in central schoolyards and playgrounds such as unshaded asphalt and artificial grass, can climb to temperatures of up to 60C during the day.6 Providing shade can reduce the temperature of these surfaces by 20C.6
Shady, sun safe and cool playgrounds will help keep our children healthy and reduce their risk of developing skin cancer in the future.
What did the project find out?
Researchers conducted virtual and onsite audits of shade in playgrounds from September 2020 until June 2021. Over 2,500 playground audits were completed in 91 local government areas (LGA) in NSW.
It was found that 19% - 504 playgrounds - of the 2592 audited NSW playgrounds had no shade over play equipment. In the shaded playgrounds, shade was found most commonly over only ¼ of the playground area. Less than one-seventh of the sample - 355 playgrounds - had both built and tree shade. This combination is ideal for heat and UV protection.
Three quarters (75%) of the mapped playgrounds had tree shade. A little over half (58%) of that tree shade was dense enough to provide good UV protection. Ideally there are trees to the east and west of playgrounds to offer the most shade across the day. But we found that only 1.6% of playgrounds were mostly shaded from east and/or west trees (across ¾ to the whole area).
Only one-fifth (19%) of audited playgrounds had some form of built shade. A quarter (26%) of the built shade structures covered the whole playground with shade. Nearly 30% provided 3/4 shade coverage to the playground. The majority (79%) of the built shade structures were shade cloth sails. Only 3% were made from more permanent materials.
Community survey findings (386 respondents) were clear that playground users want more shade. Tree shade was generally preferred.
For more detailed findings on this project, read a summary of research by QUT and University of Southern Queensland commissioned by Cancer Institute NSW.
Contact CINSW-SkinCancerPrevention@health.nsw.gov.au with any questions. Our project team is interested in meeting with planners, designers and industry partners to share the research findings and plan next steps together.
Further reading and resources
- Summary report of Benchmarking Shade in NSW Playgrounds - a summary of research on the project commissioned by Cancer Institute NSW
- Literature Review: Benchmarking Shade in NSW Playgrounds - completed by QUT, provides an up-to-date analysis of what constitutes good quality shade and its measurement with a focus on playgrounds.
- Playground shade best practice principles for action - an action tool summarising how to provide shade that protects children and their carers from harmful UV radiation and extreme heat.
1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Skin cancer in Australia. Canberra: AIHW; 2016.
2. Armstrong BK. How sun exposure causes skin cancer: an epidemiological perspective. 2004. In: Hill D, Elwood JM, English DR, editors. Prevention of Skin Cancer. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands; p.89 – 116.
3. Kricker A, Armstrong BK, Goumas C, Litchfield M, Begg CB, Hummer AJ, et al. Ambient UV, personal sun exposure and risk of multiple primary melanomas, Cancer Causes Control 2007 Apr;18(3):295-304 Abstract available at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17206532/
4. Parsons, P., Neale, R., Wolski, P. & Green, A. 1998, ‘The shady side of solar protection’, Medical Journal of Australia, 168: 327–330
5. Anderson, C., Jackson, K., Egger, S., Chapman, K., & Rock, V. 2014. Shade in urban playgrounds in Sydney and inequities in availability for those living in lower socioeconomic areas. Australian and New Zealand journal of public health, 38(1), 49-53.
6. Pfautsch, S., Rouillard, S., Wujeska-Klause, A., Bae, A., Vu, L., Manea, A., Leishman, M. (2020). School Microclimates. https://doi.org/10.26183/np86-t866