Stuart Shepherd dips into NHS Employers' latest update of The Healthy Workplaces Handbook, also known as the 'Blue Book' – and now also available online

While news of the recent launch of TheHealthy Workplaces Handbook, now in its third edition, will no doubt be received with a warm welcome throughout the service, the departments that have come to rely on it for its guidance and wisdom will be left with a dilemma: what to call it?

'The Blue Book', as it has been widely known since its first appearance in an azure cover in 1998, is now available not just in hard copy but also as an online subscription. Users across both formats will either have to agree on something new or actually start using its proper name.

However, what all readers of TheHealthy Workplaces Handbook – in occupational health, human resources and health and safety – will value is the major revision of the content.

‘Whereas the previous edition had something like 20 chapters, the latest one runs to a more substantial 45,’ says NHS Employers head of workplace health and regulation Julian Topping. ‘It is a response to what people who use it in the field have been saying they want to see and also reflects several new government strategies.’

As part of a commitment to maintain the handbook as a living document, Julian and his colleagues will be reviewing and updating the content on a monthly basis. Electronic updates will automatically appear when a subscriber logs on, ensuring the handbook always reflects current guidance and best practice. For those not ready to fully convert to the online version, printable downloads of amended or new material will be available.

In another development demonstrating the rapid expansion of the handbook, paragraphs from earlier editions that touched on important issues have now become complete chapters. In some cases, this reflects input from the readership, while in others it responds to issues raised through the annual NHS staff survey. The new chapter 12, 'Bullying and harassment,' is one such example.

Alcohol and drugs, however – which form the content of Healthy Workplaces chapter 17 – is one of several established sections that needed adapting.

‘We were conscious of some of the concerns being raised over allegations of drug and alcohol use among medical staff by various sections of the media,' says Julian. 'Clearly, these substances have found their way much more into the mainstream, but we don’t see any evidence from the field that we have a major problem.

‘The chapter updates earlier guidance on identifying people with drug and alcohol problems. We identify referral for treatment and rehabilitation as a first course of action. Some media outlets suggested random drug testing but there is quite a body of evidence from academia and the Health and Safety Executive that this isn’t the way to deal with it.’

The new Healthy Workplaces draws on a wide range of references from authoritative sources and links to websites from professional, charitable and voluntary organisations.

‘Where other people have written it better than we can, we point people to it – especially material on the internet which is constantly being updated,' says Julain.

The NHS Employers conference and exhibition is taking place 9-11 October at the ICC Birmingham.