The latest edition of the NHS's guidance on healthy workplace practices is a greatly expanded resource, reports Stuart Shepherd

Rewritten, updated and bigger, the third edition of The Healthy Workplaces Handbook or the Blue Book as it is known, has just been launched at this year's NHS Employers conference.

'This represents a major revision of the 2005 version,' says Julian Topping, NHS Employers head of workplace health and regulation. 'Whereas the previous edition had something like 20 chapters, the latest one runs to 45.'

'It is a response to what people who use it in the field - particularly occupational health, health and safety and human resources staff - have been saying they want to see,' he says, 'and also reflects several new government strategies, of which health, work and well-being take a prominent position.'

Another significant feature of the update is that for the first time and by personal subscription it is available online.

'This will help us keep it a much more live resource,' says Julian. 'We are committed to reviewing the content and updating it where needed on a monthly basis. When a subscriber logs on, these updates will automatically refresh the content, ensuring the handbook never lags behind current guidance or best practice.'

Keeping the handbook up to date is a never-ending task. In an organisation as big as the NHS, change is a constant, and as new content reflecting the most recent legislation, technology or directives is added, there is more to update.

In this edition, some earlier paragraphs, touching on distinct and important topics, have now become chapters in their own right.

While this in some instances reflects suggestions from the readership, in a number of cases it follows on issues raised through the annual NHS staff survey.

The new chapter 12, 'Bullying and harassment', is one such example and something on which NHS Employers also ran a year-long campaign. This is not an issue that will just go away, says Julian, 'which is why we were very keen to dedicate an entire and very thorough chapter to it and why we continue to talk to people about keeping it updated and extending the advice it contains for people in the field'.

In addition to an exploration of the legal situation and some very clear policy and procedure guidelines on responding to complaints, the handbook looks at what constitutes bullying and harassment or destructive criticism occurring in place of firm management.

'It's not something that only happens in the NHS and is a cause for concern right across the workforce, both in the public and private sectors,' says Julian. 'Tackling a big issue like this calls for the right sort of workplace ethos and practices so that it can be dealt with as early in the process as possible and before the need for formal investigations arises.'

Other new chapters reflect changes to working practices and workplaces. The lone-working chapter reflects on emerging patterns of healthcare provision and the concerns that grow from this for the increasing numbers of staff delivering care in the community.

A recent Royal College of Nursing survey cited in the handbook reports that in the past two years nearly one in three of all nurses working alone and away from the hospital or clinic have been assaulted. Measures for reducing risk and using technology to enhance personal safety draw references from the Health and Safety Executive and the NHS Counter Fraud Service. The wider use of figures and material from authoritative sources, and links to them, is another new feature of this edition.

The chapter on home working looks at the duty of organisations to ensure the health and safety of employees working from home and the responsibilities of the employee to take reasonable care and follow training advice.

'We have always had a good reception and plenty of valuable feedback for the earlier versions of the handbook,' says Julian.

'I have never visited an occupational health unit where it hasn't been on prominent display.'

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