Avoiding Overexposure

There are rumblings that skin cancer could cause the next rash of litigation as employees who work in the sun sue their employers when they get skin cancer. The first actions have already begun in California, while in Florida at least one school district is making shade and sun protection a priority.

The pressure is mounting for all groups who have employees, volunteers and people under their care who are exposed to the sun to provide adequate sun protection.

Then the question becomes, "What is adequate?" For parks and recreation it boils down to making sure staff understands the risks of sun exposure and that appropriate sun protection -- hats and sunscreen -- are made available to them.

"What we do in the City of Antioch during the hiring process is to give all candidates an information sheet from the Center of Disease Control on skin cancer. We also have them sign an Acknowledgement of Sun Exposure Risk form. In this form it states that staff will use sunscreen with SPF of 15 or higher, wear the hats we supply and to wear sunglasses with UV protection," says Larry Montoya, recreation supervisor for the City of Antioch, Calif.

The CDC information sheet can be found at www.cdc.gov/cancer/nscpep/index.htm. Also, go to www.parksandrecbusiness.com and click on Forms to see Antioch's Acknowledgement of Sun Exposure Risk form.

Here's a list compiled by Rocky Mountain Sunscreen of the Top 10 Rules to Save Your Skin:

1. Avoid intense sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

2. Look for broad-spectrum products rated at SPF 15 or higher.

3. Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before sun exposure.

4. Use a generous amount of sunscreen and re-apply it often.

5. Don't think that sunscreen makes you immune to the sun.

6. Your eyes need protection as much as your skin does -- wear a hat and sunglasses.

7. Use a lip balm rated SPF 15 or higher.

8. Avoid sunburn like the plague. Ditto for sunlamps and tanning parlors.

9. Examine your skin on a regular basis.

10. Sunburn blisters are second degree burns and may require medical attention.

Fun in the Shade

Another avenue that has multiple benefits is to provide plenty of shade, and there are many obvious and not-so-obvious ways to do it.

A couple of creative options can be found at Secret Woods Nature Center in Dania Beach, Fla., and at a new playground in Montgomery, Ala. Both have different needs and applications, while sharing common traits, such as offering participants a break from the sun and heat in the hot and humid south.

Secret Woods Nature Center has a mini-amphitheater on its boardwalk-like trail, but it had become unusable because of the lack of shade. The trees had been killed by saltwater intrusion.

"We needed to be able to use that area because we have a lot of classes and groups. I had seating, but no one wanted to sit there," says Ruth Myles, park naturalist.

But Myles was determined to make the space usable. The answer for this application was a fabric shade structure made by BPI International.

Myles reports that the installation was a logistical challenge, as the amphitheater sits in the middle of a wetlands area between the park entrance and the main amphitheater, but was an easier alternative to heavier construction.

Once installed it provided necessary cover and would serve as a staging and orientation area for the various groups who use the park.

"It offers a venue without doing heavy construction where people can meet, listen to speakers and hold group orientation. It added a lot more versatility to the site," says Myles.

The amphitheater's recycled plastic seating, which holds about 30, now sits under a relatively porous fabric shade structure. The porosity allows needed breezes through the area, but is not as effective when it rains.

Waterproof fabric structures are available, but the air doesn't flow as well through the structure as it's blocked by the waterproofing. Cooling fans and humidifiers could be added, but for this park it wasn't even considered because there's no electrical access.

In Montgomery, Ala., a group of citizens made shade a priority for its new accessible playground. Using a combination of fabric shade structures and the judicious use of trees, the group was able to round out the benefits of a new playground with needed shade.

Roger Spain, a volunteer involved in the program (he describes himself as a "first lieutenant grunt" to his wife, who headed the project), says the steering committee met to prioritize the needs of the playground.

One method for determining priorities takes the identified needs and juxtaposes them against each other. So, the group will determine what's more important -- A vs. B, F vs. G, G vs. A, and so on.

"I told the facilitator that I could tell he didn't live in Montgomery, because shade beats anything else. We would rather have shade than a slide, so we set out to effect the construction of a playground with great shade," says Spain.

"The motivation for shade was the safety of the children and the enjoyment of the adults who have to be on-site watching their children. What adult wants to sit in the sun at 90 degrees, 80 percent humidity?"

Currently, the playground has a post-and-sail tension fabric structure, a pavilion shade structure and surrounding trees. The sail-like, tri-piece fabric shade structure allows air to easily flow through it.

Plans are in the works to construct another sail-like shade structure over a couple of the larger play structures, providing additional shade on the playground itself. Spain says that while the shade structure serves its most important duty, its style is whimsical and fun, reflecting the playground's primary purpose.

Still, as Spain says, the kids' safety and health is a primary consideration. Local dermatologist John Anthony contributed to the project as the dedication to protecting children and parents from the sun dovetailed nicely into what he's been preaching for years.

"We see people coming in every day with skin cancer. You get about 80 percent of your sun exposure prior to the age of 18 and about one in three Americans will get some type of skin cancer in their life," says Dr. Anthony. "Any protection we can provide, particularly for children, from direct sun exposure will make a big difference down the road in their risk for developing skin cancer."

Dr. Anthony says that current skin cancer numbers should begin to come down over the next few years thanks to greater awareness about the risks. However, those numbers won't actually be realized until 20 or 30 years from now.

"Unfortunately, it's a long process. As with decreased smoking rates it takes a long time before you see the lung cancer rates come down because there's such a delayed response," says Dr. Anthony.

Dr. Anthony recommends a double-dose of sun protection -- sunscreen and sun shade. On one hand, you can't always be assured of shade, and you can't wear a full body suit in the heat of the summer.

On the other, sunscreen's protection can only go so far.

"People think they can put sunscreen on in the morning and it will protect them all day. But really, sunscreen should be your backup. Your primary should be some sort of physical barrier -- like a broad-brim hat, a lightweight long-sleeve shirt or some sort of shade structure -- anything that will directly block the sun. For exposed areas, you need sunscreen and you need to reapply it several times during the day," says Dr. Anthony.

"Several companies are making lightweight clothing and shirts and there's some swimwear with sleeves available that won't slow you down. In Australia, their national awareness program is Slip, Slop, Slap -- Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat, so it all goes together."

The dermatology association -- The American Academy of Dermatology -- provides further information, including grant possibilities for playgrounds and public structures at www.aad.org.