Ep 13. Health & Safety Lawyer Graham Dent and his LinkedIn Power group

Brendan: welcome to Episode 13 of the Health and Safety Business Podcast. I’m Brendan Torazzi, director of OHS.com.au Australia’s fist online training marketplace. Today I’m joined with Graham Dent. Hi Graham.

Graham: how are you Brendan?

Brendan: I’m well thanks. Thanks very much for coming on the show. Tell me a little bit about what you do Graham.

Graham: I’m a sole practitioner. My practice is called Dent Consulting and Legal. I focus solely on workplace health and safety law. I also run an online group on LinkedIn focusing on work health safety law.

Brendan: how long have you been a, do they call it a lawyer or solicitor in Australia or it’s the funny things?

Graham: lawyer covers both. It’s fine.

Brendan: how long have you been a lawyer for?

Graham: 37 years.

Brendan: always in health and safety?

Graham: my first brush with health and safety back in about 1982 where I worked for the then Department of Labor and Industry which is the forerunners of Work Safe. I was there for a few years doing prosecutions and got my hands in the area ever since.

Brendan: what was the legislation back in the early eighties to manage health and safety or was it more employment law?

Graham: it was called Labour and Industry Act. It’s final descriptive and currently so there are very specific requirements about machine guarding and proper shoes rather than narrow codes of practice and general requirements and regulations about the home hierarchy of controls but the fines are so low in those days that it really was just an expense of doing business. We’ve all had a great record in prosecution and in many instances the defense didn’t even turn up. That is how lightly it was treated. The big companies would turn up primarily to defend their reputation rather than worry about the fine. They would spend more defending it than the fine.

Brendan: do you think that working back in those times is it more dangerous or was it just different? I guess what I’m trying to get to is has the new legislation actually made workplaces safer?

Graham: I think there is a number of acts in Victoria since then. I think there are three pieces of legislation or maybe two 1985 and 2004. They’ve come a long way since then in terms of the guidance offered both in duty and also there are all the regulations in terms of practice. I think it also meant that people can no longer try to turn up all industries across the business. There’s a lot of change in that regard. I think that has affected by reduction in injuries and also increased rate of prosecutions and return and the fines.

Brendan: walk us through in the early days you worked as a prosecutor and where did you go after then?

Graham: after that I went to the Industry of Consumer Affairs where I was again in the regulatory role prosecuting kind of Consumer Affairs Legislation and Managing Licensing and Standards. From there I went to one of Australia’s largest law firms Mallesons Stephen Jaques. They’re now called King & Wood Mallesons. I was there because of my background with occupation health and safety I had a predominant role in the health safety practice. I also did some environmental role again from the regulatory side which was prosecutions. From there I opened my own business called SHE Law Solutions, Safe Healthy Environmental Law Solutions. I practiced after six years again in health safety until I was headhunted to another firm. I spent six years there while creating Managing Partner in the Melbourne office. Then the last two years I’ve been running my own business again.

Brendan: running your own business is it just yourself or do you have staff helping out?

Graham: no, just myself. Working with consultants is required from time to time to give you more flexibility.

Brendan: you get to pick and choose what work you want to take on.

Graham: I don’t like turning work back. Sometimes you’re working very long hours and you look forward to a patch where the work drops off a bit.

Brendan: the type of clients coming on now do they tend to, you don’t have to name names but the range of the types of industries that you’re representing.

Graham: I represented in the past 10 years to the present I’ve done everything from large telecommunication companies, one of the big four banks. I helped them through their whole process of leading after the harmonized legislation. I’m trying to think now. I’ve acted for any small to medium businesses being prosecuted and getting some larger businesses but a lot of training. Worked for an engineering company on a national basis and handling their training, advice and also running a career of inquest for them. Government research organizations again doing career inquest for them. There’s been a diversity both from the size of businesses, government sector, private enterprise and size of business in terms of small, medium and large.

Brendan: your early career was you did a lot of prosecution. Do you do defending now as well?

Graham: yes. I’ve done a lot of training. I still do the occasional seminar but it’s an area for the small to medium business most of their response to health and safety laws is reactive when something goes wrong. There is still a bit of training and boards in terms of the office of the due diligence officer obligations. Most of the work is in response to Work Safe actions for an incident. The prosecutions and enforceable undertakings tend to be the main staff that I work to command.

Brendan: if a company overlook something, they get an enforceable action against them and then you work with those companies to rectify those situations?

Graham: they’ll get notice a notice served on them to improve works or to stop works. The prosecution will face charges. In the case I’ll manage the defense make a liaison Work Safe. Sometimes people are asked to appear in court to defend them as well on the plea and litigation of the penalty. In some cases we make the criteria to apply to Work Safe for an enforceable undertaking which is effectively a contract between my client and Work Safe. My client deposit a certain amount of money performing certain works which Work Safe consider to be a benefit to health and safety or the project interest.

Brendan: what happens with, I’d recently in the last couple of years in AlertForce with training, came across a customer that had an enforceable undertaking against them. It was to do some training but they never did anything about it. I’m not going to name names but it was a very big company. What sort of powers do the regulators actually have to follow through?

Graham: that must be one that slipped through the cracks because certainly now they’ve got stringent reporting requirements. To the client one where they have to report monthly on progress to Work Safe in terms of key milestones that is agreed. They have to keep all the receipts, all evidence of contribution in kind in terms of the hours the people have contributed to the work within the business. If a person fails to meet the requirement within schedule then they could be prosecuted for breaching it. It’s much more seriously monitored. They are harder to get, the value the Work Safe before you sign and the public interest higher criteria. They used to accept some undertakings where effectively they’re only asking businesses to do what the law required them to do already. They’ve gone way beyond it now. They expect something more than above it.

Brendan: training must be one part of an imposable undertaking. What are some of the other things that companies need to do?

Graham: one of the ones that I’m doing at the moment is where the client, there was a dust explosion during a welding operation. Dust explosions are not go well understood by the industry and certainly came as a surprise to my client. Part of the process there is that apart from internal training and things like safe work statements which are required for the work that I was taking in this case. They are also are developing in conjunction with one of the tech holders a program for the various engineering courses in welding. It goes through three of the units of competency right through to the Diplomas. That would be a unit that would be incorporated into the training program for the processes and others.

At the other end of the scale there is a range for Weldings Industries of Australia or Weld Australia, publish into that, advertise it throughout the industry more broadly and also within the support to publicized it within the sector. I supposed it’s the bottom level, the middle level and the top level.

Brendan: it sounds like even though it sounds quite serious if you’re a business and you get one of these you could actually turn it around and make it an advantage for your organization if you look at it as a learning piece for the business property.

Graham: that is right. It also avoids a prosecution conviction which is important for some companies because it can affect any arrangements either with government or in the private sector where increasingly companies are requirement people to demonstrate their health safety competence as part of retaining a contract and the conviction is a bad mark against you and sometimes can lead to not getting a job.

Brendan: all these enforceable undertakings that has been published on the regulators website when they…

Graham: yes. In each jurisdiction they’re published and gives full copies of them. They’re downloadable from the websites.

Brendan: it’s like public knowledge once that happens.

Graham: yes. In Victoria it will be in the prosecution and enforceable undertaking section on their website. You’ll get the full list of all the prosecutions that they are undertaking. The section that the prosecution is under defines if it’s closed and also the enforceable undertakings are pressed firmly with downloadable copy, PDFs of the whole document is agreed and signed.

Brendan: I wanted to turn now to your LinkedIn Group because you’ve done an amazing job at creating a meeting place for people interested in work health and safety. Tell me a little bit about how that started and what it’s become?

Graham: it started about seven years ago when I worked for one of the big four banks on helping them transition into the work health safety laws naturally. It was just one of those spur of the moment things. I was walking at the steps after a meeting with a client. I thought gee, I could start a group because of a lot of ignorance at the time and there’s a lot of development in terms of discussion papers, draft codes of practice, regulatory impact statements, a whole range of issues that were going on. It was very hard for people to keep on top of them what was happening in each jurisdiction.

Brendan: just to give me a timeframe this would be just when the model Act, Work Health and Safety Act was kind of draft…

Graham: early 2011 when there was a lot of finalization of legislation going on and talk about implementation and still discussions for example whether Victoria would be involved. Victoria was heavily involved in developing codes of practice and right up to recently when they just pulled out and dropped any involvement with any of the processes including codes of practice which other jurisdictions within Australia even those that hasn’t become the model laws yet still work within the codes of practice. There is a lot of disharmony around the country and stated times and different states coming into the model laws. Some of the changes were in the detail in some intervals that companies want to make sure that they were on top of what the changes were and also things like Office of Due Diligence requirements. There’s a lot of information going on, a lot of junk going on and I thought I could bring it together into one group which I named Work Health Safety Harmonization Group. It grew from small beginnings to be now the largest LinkedIn Group for health safety in Australia.

Brendan: how many members do you have now?

Graham: just under 18,000 members and a couple of thousand followers.

Brendan: that is amazing. Is it mainly, what make up would be Australian members?

Graham: there is over 50 nations involved. The LinkedIn program used to give you better steps and breakdowns. They stopped doing that. They changed a number of functions which used to be of great value but the portion now would be health safety managers, health safety consultants, managers with responsibilities for health safety or managers generally as directors who are concerned about their position, health safety representatives, trading representatives. It’s a very broad cross section of the community in relation to health safety. There’s also reps in every regulator in Australia. The fact that we’re Australian will have opportunities in it. In the early days Safe Work Australia were using it for media announcements, some changes and developments with the model laws.

Brendan: it sounds like it’s a great central meeting place for people to share information.

Graham: yes.

Brendan: hopefully it will solve some issues.

Graham: yes. For those who aren’t familiar thinking it’s all three. There’s certainly many discussions arising there. They cover a broad range of issues and I’ve encouraged people to no question is a stupid question. For those who feel embarrassed about we have a process that they can email with the question and I’ll post it in the so that they can still get feedback and answers. With such a broad diversity of people in the group. The answer is very obviously quite often very helpful.

Brendan: is it taking a lot of time to manage that group or is that something managing that simple?

Graham: it takes time to manage because a lot of people like to spam in it or post a business or forthcoming conferences and I tend to delete those. Conferences which as free but needing commercial or it’s posted by a business which doesn’t add value to the group. It can be a promotion but as long as it adds value. It’s some information and adds value and people sign off on it with their business name or their survives that is fine. Sometimes it’s just a blatant advertisement.

Brendan: if it adds value to the community then it’s welcome but if it’s just about making money or promoting some kind of event it’s probably good to go on the promotions tab.

Graham: the promotions tab was removed by LinkedIn.

Brendan: it shows you how up to date I am.

Graham: there’s just a lot of promotions and spam coming in to the discussions thread which is why there’s a bit of work in administering plus also I post a lot of material myself.

Brendan: why do you think or do you think Australia kind of leads the way with health and safety legislation and managing health and safety in the workplaces or is there some other country around the world that has done a better job?

Graham: I think a lot of people look to England or the UK as an example. They were very strong framework. It’s still based on the same principles as the Australian legislation. In fact Australia copied the approach, Robens Principles it was called. Practicability from the UK. The UK has gone ahead in areas like industrial or corporate managed order and not just the concept but the way they impose penalties. It’s not just a set fine under the act but it could be based on the proportion or percentage of the company’s gross turnover. When you’ve got companies that are worth $100 billion as we have a lot of mining companies in Australia and they’re worth more. The maximum fine may not be much more than a footnote in their annual report. We need to base it on a percentage of their gross turnover. It becomes a much more serious matter for them.

Brendan: a 100%. You want to make sure you’re managing your health and safety correctly.

Graham: Australia has got a good reputation. New Zealand has followed our model. I think England still has a lot for us to learn from.

Brendan: we’re going to wrap up the interview now. I’ve just got a few short questions to ask you to wrap. First of all can I ask how old you are?

Graham: 62.

Brendan: what do you like to do to keep fit?

Graham: I do triathlons, the longer ones and I do in the fundraising events. AlertForce through you have assisted in it through selling some training courses online or auctioning them. Through the group I’ve managed to raise about $30,000 in a series of triathlons. It’s a very welcome incentive by training and raising funds.

Brendan: yes and doing it for a charitable cause. That is fantastic.

Graham: I’ve also got 12 year old twins I keep forgetting.

Brendan: it also keeps you on your toes as well. You said you work long hours. How many hours of sleep do you get on average per night?

Graham: I try to get seven. I used to get a lot less but I’ve been told I need to meet my minimum seven now this week and I do feel a lot better and more productive when I get it. I don’t burn the candle anymore because I’m not young anymore. Doing things like that which I used to do. Really seven hours of sleep.

Brendan: do you have any personal goals that you’re looking to achieve in the next 12 months?

Graham: business wise or personally?

Brendan: personal goals and then the next question I’m going to ask you about what business achievement you’d like to be most remembered for?

Graham: personally I’d like to get back to another Iron Man. I’ve had some injuries. I haven’t done an Iron Man Triathlon for a couple of years now. I’ve put in a bit of weight I need to lose my weight and get back into that. That is my short term, it doesn’t take a couple of years to do that goal.

Brendan: then the business achievement you’d like to be most remembered for?

Graham: it’s hard to say what I’d like to be most remembered for. I always wanted to write a book but I don’t think that will happen in terms of time constraints. I just like to be remembered for someone who is pragmatic, commercially focused and get the right solution for clients which sometimes is a plea of guilty with litigation as a penalty, sometimes an undertaking, sometimes it’s a successful defense and developing a relationship with clients which unfortunately for clients sometimes means repeat business. Most of them don’t want to see me again after never but we maintain basics.

Brendan: if people want to find out a little bit more about your Graham what is your website?

Graham: DentCL.com.

Brendan: AuAssist.com.

Graham: that is right.

Brendan: all right Graham, thanks very much for coming on the show today.

Graham: okay, good to speak to you.

Brendan: remember if you’ve been enjoying the podcast don’t forget to leave us a review and subscribe. See you next time.

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