Vitamin D is needed for musculoskeletal health and reducing risk of bone fractures. A good source of vitamin D is ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.

However a balance is needed between too much sun, with increased risk of skin cancer, and enough sun for adequate vitamin D. Sun exposure causes about 99 per cent of non-melanoma skin cancers and 95 per cent of melanomas in Australia.

Residential and respite facilities need to provide adequate direct sunlight exposure, and meet planning and accreditation standards in providing easy to get to areas for outdoor shade and sunlight.

Safe direct sunlight exposure in Victoria

September to April

Most people need sun protection when the UV Index is 3 and above. During these months, most Victorians can get enough vitamin D by exposing their face, arms and hands for a few minutes most days. This should be done either side of the peak UV radiation period of 10.00 am to 2.00 pm (11.00 am to 3.00 pm daylight saving time). People with naturally very dark skin may need three to six times this exposure.

May to August

When the UV Index is below 3, direct sunlight exposure of two to three hours a week to face, arms and hands or equal surface area produces enough vitamin D in most people. People with naturally very dark skin need three to six times this exposure.

In winter, a north facing unshaded aspect best allows mid-winter sun but also keeps out mid-summer sun. An area with adjustable shade or deciduous trees can allow direct sunlight from May to August and protected sun exposure from September to April.

Outside areas with direct sun exposure

When designing outside areas with direct sun exposure, think about the following:

Accessibility

  • accessibility for people with reduced or limited mobility
  • walking distance to areas with direct sunlight exposure

Comfort and safety

  • safety issues in outside areas
  • visual appeal and comfort of furniture and fixtures to encourage use, particularly for longer periods from May to August

Privacy and security

  • screening for gender specific use
  • privacy for those who cover their bodies for religious or cultural reasons
  • line of sight from overlooking buildings, roads and public areas
  • security and staffing for private and screened areas

Activity and social interaction

  • activities that encourage use and combine open space and leisure strategies, for example social and physical activity, children’s play areas, refreshment and food preparation facilities

Integration of natural and built environments

  • types of plants, for example deciduous trees for shade
  • portable shade to create more shade when needed and less at other times for more UV exposure
  • existing shade, how current shade can be best used, and how best to allow for seasonal differences
  • outdoor fixtures such as barbeques for birthday parties and other social occasions
  • sheltered balconies or garden areas with wheelchair and limited-mobility access to multi-level facilities.

Skin cancer prevention

Sun exposure needs to be accompanied by various skin cancer preventive measures.In Victoria, SunSmart recommends sun protection for most people when UV levels are forecast at 3 and above. Average UV levels are 3 and above from the beginning of September to the end of April. When UV levels are 3 and above, five sun protection measures are recommended: shade, sun protective clothing, hats, sunglasses and sunscreen.

When UV Index levels are below 3, sun protection is not needed except in alpine regions or near highly reflective surfaces, such as snow and water. Average UV radiation levels are below 3 from May to August. During this time the general population does not need to use sun protection.