In Australia we have been using shade for generations to protect us from the heat during summer, whether it is shade from a tree or some form of man-made structure. Not only can shade provide a cooler space but also it can reduce the impact of harmful UV radiation from the sun.
When outdoors we receive UV radiation from two main sources; direct and diffuse. Direct exposure occurs when we are in direct sunlight, whereas diffuse is when UV is reflected from the atmosphere above. Throughout the day the proportion of direct and diffuse UV we are exposed to can vary dependent on the sun’s location in the sky. When the sun is high, we receive much higher levels of direct UV than diffuse UV. However, when the sun is low we receive more diffuse UV than direct. This can be important to understand when considering shade as protection from the sun to ensure it provides the best level of protection possible.
The type of shade material can also impact on the level of coverage that it provides. Solid material such as a roof is going to provide a much greater level of protection than something that you can see through. Likewise, trees can provide great natural coverage, but the canopy is likely to have gaps between leaves and branches that could allow some levels of UV radiation through.
In our natural world, ground surfaces such as soil would generally absorb UV radiation reducing the instances of reflected UV. Grass generally reflects very low levels of UV, around 2% – 5%. Whereas dry sand can reflect higher levels, up to 18%. Concrete and metal surfaces can reflect even higher levels of UV radiation. This is important to understand as shade does not offer protection from reflected UV, identifying the need to use other sun protection measures as well as shade.
The best way to understand your workplace shade requirements is to complete a shade audit. This is a method of determining your shade needs, assessing what existing shade you have and what you might need and the expected UV reflection levels on your site. Once a shade audit has been completed it is possible to determine the most effective type of shade for your workplace, whether that is portable or permanent, and the types of materials to be used. Often natural shade can be used in conjunction with man-made shade, improving the level of protection being offered.
Shade in the workplace is a great tool to protect yourself and employees from the harmful effects of UV radiation, particularly when used in conjunction with other sun protection measures such as sun protective clothing and sunscreen. It is also effective in reducing the impact of heat stress on individuals on very hot days.