Sun Protection in the Aquatic Environment

Years ago, lifeguards were the icons of sun-seeking, bronzed Albertans and Northerners. Clothing was minimal, shade was non-existent, and a dark tan was a source of pride. Today, many lifeguards continue to spend much of their working day in the sun. But times have changed! Lifeguards are the new model for healthy, active living under the sun. 

The Lifesaving Society encourages lifeguards to protect themselves from long-term skin damage, including non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Alberta, but it is also highly preventable. 

Protecting yourself from the sun is as easy as 1, 2, 3

  1. Cover up 
    Wear a wide-brimmed hat that covers your face and neck, but does not reduce your visibility. Wear polarized sunglasses that reduce glare from water reflection.

  2. Use sunscreen
    Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. (The Lifesaving Society recommends SPF 30). Be sure to apply your sunscreen 20 minutes before starting your shift, and to re-apply it every two hours.

  3. Seek shade
    Shade is a great source of sun protection. It can also help you to keep cool at work. Look for sources of shade at your facility, such as umbrellas or canopies. Make use of shade during your breaks, especially between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the intensity of the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays is greatest.

Talk to the manager of your facility about sun protection. Many facilities are now developing policies and practices to help reduce sun exposure for outdoor workers. Under the Occupational Health and Safety Code, you are responsible for cooperating with health and safety rules outlined by your employer. Sun protection for aquatic staff is also a requirement of the Lifesaving Society's Safety Standards for aquatic facilities and beaches.

Reduce your skin cancer risk

Occupational Health and Safety Code requires an employer to do everything that can be done to ensure that staff members are safe, healthy, and productive. Lifeguards are part of an occupational group known to be at increased risk for high intensity UV exposure. There are resources available that can help you support and promote sun protection with your staff team.

Be Sun Safe: You can make a difference!

Together, aquatic facility managers and lifeguards are uniquely suited to promote sun safety. As a team, you can influence behaviour change by role modeling sun protection for swimmers. The day of the sun-soaked lifeguard has come and gone. Research now shows that a "base tan" does not protect you from the sun, and that just one severe sun burn can increase your risk of developing skin cancer.

This summer, please join the Lifesaving Society of Alberta/NWT and the Alberta Cancer Board, and work toward being sun safe!