I have always been a bit wary of people that you meet in life that have a bagful of qualifications, as in my experience a lot of them are good at passing tests and examinations. But when it comes to putting the knowledge that they have gotten academically into practice, a lot of them that have been in charge of me in my life and telling me what to do, couldn't knock a nail in a wall to hang up a picture frame straight. Having said that though after hearing about this corporate manslaughter law which was rolled out across the UK in April 2008, I thought that I had better get myself some sort of off-road qualification. To just tell someone that you have 47 years experience in these all encompassing health and safety times we live in, just might not be good enough to cut it.As usual first port of call was the computer, and a search brought me to Oakwood Specialist Training Ltd. I got in touch with them and it happened that their Director Tony Howland who started Oakwood Training after retiring early a few years ago from a long career in law enforcement, is an old pal of mine. As I organise events at club level and on behalf of LRM and we seem to be living in a suing society, I asked Tony about the implications of this new law and he told me “ this corporate manslaughter law potentially could impact on not just businesses but on clubs and organisations as well. The organisers as well as the executives of any club may be held liable, and thereby leave themselves exposed to possible prosecution, in the case of a fatality at an event”. God forbid this should ever happen to any of us, but if a coroner were to ask you what right you had to help to organise an event, any proof I would think that you could offer in your defence, might be of help to you. Most of Oakwood's clients come from public utilities and emergency services whose employees have to venture off-road, but I booked in as an individual. So one day in February I turned up at 8am sharp at the site Oakwood use in Kent to start my 2 day course with them. 

Back to school Tony introduced the course in their classroom and told me that “the aim of Oakwood Training is to provide specialist and accredited training to persons and companies engaged in the use of off-road vehicles and equipment in connection with their business or profession. We are able to train you to meet the legal requirements, to a nationally recognised and quality assured level. A certificate of competence demonstrates that the successful candidate has experience, technical knowledge and ability which has been independently and reliably assessed. The certificate we shall train you for over the next 2 days is a Certificate of Competence and it is not like other types of training where you receive a Certificate of Attendance which is very different. The Certificate of Competence we offer is a City and Guilds to NVQ Level 2 issued by the National Proficiency Test Council”. After this brief intro Tony had to leave site as he is not allowed to be there as the candidate receives their training. So he handed me over to Simon Stemp who is one of the trainers at Oakwood, and Tony told me that he would return to take me for my test on the next day late in the afternoon. 


After the best part of a day in the classroom going through the theory and safety side of the course as well as the implications of COSH, we headed out to Oakwood's private off-road course, and after Simon gave me a demonstration drive around it was time at last for me to get behind the wheel and start my training in earnest. The off-road driving assessment one must pass to qualify for the certificate, is basically broken down into seven separate elements, every time you arrive at a hazard out on the course. These assessment criteria are not off-road specific and would apply if one was training for a certificate of use in the workplace for quad bikes, trailers, or even tractors, so it was a bit hard for me to get my head round it to start with. The first element is SITE, so you stop at a hazard and inform the assessor that you have arrived there and identified it as an hazard. TASK you tell him that the task is to get through safely. MACHINE you assess if you have the machinery to do it and inform him so. The next elements are your Risk Assessment starting with IDENTIFY HAZARDS, EVALUATE RISK, CONTROL MEASURES TO BE IMPLMENTED, and finally EMERGENCY which is when you tell the assessor what you would do if you could not drive through the hazard. Is there a by-pass, can you back out and try again using another gear or diff lock, and if all else fails inform him you have told someone where you are and that you have a mobile phone with you? 


After Tony came back to site for the test on the second day I had to go through the procedures for him to ready the Oakwood Discovery for off- road use. Then I had to answer a lot of relevant questions, before he asked me to head out onto the course. The elements that you have to break down at every hazard and explain them, really make you think, and it lifts your level of conciousness higher, to things that you might have been doing off-road for years, but you don't know why or how you do them that way. All the usual off-road hazards are built into the course such as steep ups and downs, ditches, gulleys, a bomb hole and humps and there is a wicked side slope that you have to do both ways in the hour and a half you are on test. Eventually it was time to see how I had done and I was chuffed to bits when Tony told me I had been successful and had passed. I must admit when it was all over I was knackered, as I was a bit nervous on the test. I realised it had been years and years since anyone had tested me, or I had sat an exam and it was a bit nerve racking to say the least. In a few weeks time after the paperwork has been dealt with, I will receive my NVQ Level 2 certificate and a credit card sized photo ID badge, which I might tell you I will wear round my neck on a lanyard with pride. I will be going back to Oakwood  again soon, to take my winching NVQ with them. 

​Oakwood Specialist Training Ltd have sites available to them to carry out their training from Newcastle down through England to Brighton and they can be contacted for off-road training, winching, or for use of trailers in the workplace (and soon for quad bike) to NVQ level through their website at www.oakwoodst.com or by email at info@oakwoodst.com  or by phone at 07989351869