The Lonely Death of Octavio Godinez

June 23rd, 2006 by

Octavio Godinez, 27, had been working as a trim carpenter with his father-in-law at a home in Coosaw Creek, South Carolina. He was shaping a shim for a door when something happened – it appears that his hand slipped and he cut himself. Normally, his father-in-law would have been there to help, but the latter had gone off for supplies. Godinez was working by himself.
He wrapped the wound as best he could, got into his truck and headed toward Summerville Medical Center, a nearby hospital. He called his father-in-law and told him about the injury. They planned to meet up at the hospital.
Godinez didn’t make it. The truck went off the road and hit a tree. There were no skid marks or other indications that Godinez had tried to brake before the crash, so in all likelihood, he had passed out from a loss of blood. The cut had severed an artery. He might have been dead before the truck hit the tree.
Working Alone
This tale raises a set of issues that many safety plans do not contemplate: the worker who is totally alone, all by himself, in a job setting brimming with hazards. Under normal circumstances, trim carpentry is not at the high end of the risk spectrum. Nonetheless, plenty of things can go wrong. The work can involve heights, lifting, and the use of power and sharp cutting tools. Cuts, strains, slips and falls are normal occurrences. Working alone substantially magnifies every risk. Conventional safety protocals require that injured employees report immediately to a supervisor. But what if there is no supervisor? Normally, Godinez had a partner, but as it happened, his partner was not there when the injury occurred.
I wonder if Godinez knew exactly where the hospital was – he was from out of state (Indiana) and was visiting with his in-laws to earn some money for his wife and son. I wonder if he had any training in emergency first aid. I wonder what kind of medical supplies were available at the jobsite. I wonder why he decided to drive himself, as opposed to calling for an ambulance. Did he have any insurance or was he an “independent contractor,” side by side with his father-in-law, another “independent contractor.” What went through his mind as he tried to figure out what to do?
It’s tempting to pass this death off as circumstantial, simply result of bad luck and bad timing. That may be true. But in the world of risk management, we pride ourselves on being able to anticipate almost every possibility. We believe that any risk can be mitigated through careful planning. I’m not sure what specific steps were needed to prevent this death, but it reminds me that solitary workers need to have a plan. I wonder how many of them actually do.

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