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Six Degrees of Sunscreen

Five colored tubes of sun screen, displayed in ascending order of SPF number

Every year dozens of articles are published that extol the virtues of sunscreen, the importance of wearing sunscreen year-round, noting the danger of sunburns,  and providing tips on how to choose and apply the right sunscreen. This isn’t news to any of us.

But the whole sunscreen-applying process may be doing a lot more good than you think. Sure, sunscreen provides protection against UV rays—but it can also reduce your risk of getting hurt from other sources too.

Researchers have long been aware that habits make up roughly 40% of our daily behavior. But what about the other 60%? There’s increasing discussion of how certain habits can impact all of our actions.

Some habits are considered “keystone habits” because they broadly influence our behavior. Making your bed in the morning can trigger you to be more disciplined throughout the day. Backing into a parking spot is not only safer than pulling in but it can also prompt you to pay more attention to safety, like testing your footing before committing your weight as you step out of the vehicle.

Applying sunscreen before heading outdoors can similarly act as a keystone habit by bringing safety to the forefront of your mind. As a result, it will make you more conscious about the need to keep an eye on children around the pool, or prompt you to wear proper footwear and bring enough water if you’re going hiking. And, of course, with your mind on safety it will make you more likely to apply it again later in the day when the sun is hottest and your initial application of sunscreen is likely to have worn off.

Keystone habits can be beneficial to organizational safety performance as well. Much like with learning to apply sunscreen regularly, it doesn’t take much to make a few small habitual improvements. For example, if employees learn to keep their eyes on the task at hand, it can dramatically reduce the number of injuries that occur across a company. If you want proof you don’t need to look any further than Alcoa, which used the power of safety and organizational habits to prevent injuries and boost productivity as well.

So next time you’re packing for the beach, don’t forget the sunscreen. It could make you a lot safer than you think.

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