Keeping children safe in the summer

Different seasons bring about different health and safety risks for schools and their children.

We have all heard how allowing children to play outside is good for them – and it is – and seen images of youngsters enjoying an ice cream while the sun beats down on them.

However, we need to be aware of the risks brought about by the warmer weather and how they can be controlled.

Solar radiation

The impact of solar radiation can be devastating. Exposure to the sun is the main cause of skin cancer. It is linked to 65 per cent of malignant melanoma and 99 per cent of non-melanoma skin cancer.

In schools – and the clubs they run during holidays – we have to manage the risks for both adults and children. How, then, do we manage it?

We cannot keep children indoors all of the time, though when temperatures are extremely hot it can be beneficial to prevent them from going outside.

When children are outside there are a number of control measures which can be put in place to prevent them – and indeed staff – from being harmed.

In my role at an independent day school, I have used the free resources provided by the IOSH through its No Time to Lose campaign. These resources look at the risks and provide easy steps for organisations, including those in the education sector, on how to manage them.

Many people assume that applying sunscreen is all they need to do if they are spending time in the sun. However, this is very much a last line of defence and schools should consider other measures first.

In a lot of settings, especially early years ones, canopies have been put up to provide large amounts of shade. This is just one way of removing the risk and still allowing children to be outside.

Covering up with suitable clothing is also a key way of avoiding skin damage by the sun. Clothing should not leave parts of skin exposed and special consideration must be given to people’s heads.

Many schools I’m aware of have a protocol in place where children must wear hats if they are outside during warm weather. Particularly useful are hats which cover the back of the neck and ears.

These are some of the first considerations that must be given. But we cannot forget sunscreen, while also reiterating the fact that we shouldn’t rely on it by itself.

Children of course should use a very high factor sunscreen of 50, while adults are recommended to use one of around 30 to offer them protection.

An important point with sunscreen is that it doesn’t offer protection for the first 20 to 30 minutes after applying it as it needs to be absorbed into the skin. Of course it needs to be reapplied regularly at least every two to three hours. Another key point a lot of people do not realise is that sun protection can have a very short shelf life so check the expiry date.

There are issues however with applying sunscreen to children as it involves actually touching them, so this is quite a challenging situation.

And in addition, schools must remember that it doesn’t have to be sunny for skin to be damaged, so these steps should be followed in cloudy conditions – as up to 80 per cent of dangerous UV rays can get through cloudy skies.

The recommendation is that the sun’s rays in the UK can be harmful for longer than just the summer months and sunscreen is recommended for children from March to October.

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