AN OPEN-AIR nursery has triumphed in its battle with health and safety chiefs over claims that its use of antiseptic wipes to clean children's hands could lead to health problems.
The pioneering Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery in Fife, which operates in a woodland setting, had been ordered to use soap and water instead of wipes if staff and children visited a farm or walked across a field containing livestock.
However, the nursery argued that carrying up to ten litres of water into Letham Woods where the children play and learn was impractical and that the threat of catching E coli was being exaggerated.
Last night Cathy Bache, the nursery's founder, welcomed the victory over what she described as Health Protection Scotland's (HPS) "very unworkable" hand-washing policy.
"It's fantastic. We can now continue to operate as a nomadic nursery on our woodland site," she said. "If we'd had hand-washing imposed on us it would have made things a lot more difficult."
The potential hygiene issue came to light in July last year after concerns about hand-washing were raised at an inspection by the Care Commission which regulates Scotland's nurseries. The nursery complied with a request to use soap and water before reverting to wipes and gels last December.
The Care Commission then approached HPS, which produced a report saying hand-washing with soap and running water should be used in a range of circumstances including visiting to farms and after sneezing, nose-blowing or coughing.
But the nursery submitted its own report to the Care Commission arguing its case.
Ms Bache, who has been taking children aged three to five into the woods for six years, said: "The outcome is really encouraging, as the Care Commission had obviously looked very carefully at the report we'd sent them and taken it on board.
"It is actually phenomenal what they've done, they've stood out on a bit of a limb and backed us. They have appreciated the sense of respect we have for the children and that we can work with wipes and gel.
"Health Protection Scotland have this very unworkable hand-washing policy. What they were asking for from us was almost impossible and unworkable. Their report lumped us in with farms, petting farms and zoos."
A spokesman for the Care Commission, said: "The Secret Garden will now follow a ten-step programme of measures with regard to hand hygiene. The practice and procedures should also be approved by the individual parents of all children attending.
"However, we remain clear that children at the Secret Garden should wash their hands with soap and water whenever possible to maintain good infection prevention."
Scotland has three other outdoor nurseries - two in Perth and one in Glasgow.Their different terrain means water can be delivered by a range of measures including a minibus.