June 23, 2006

The Lonely Death of Octavio Godinez

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.

| 3 Comments

3 Comments

This is a sad an tragic reminder of why we should NEVER be left alone on any job. No matter how big, small, professional, or personal. Even if the job requires little moire than screwing in a light bulb there should always be someone there with you securing the ladder. (so to speak). My heart goes out to all the friends, family, and, the loved one's who are morning the loss of their loved one Octavio Godinez. As his untimely and tragic death has become in itself a lifelong bond between those who loved him and those of us who have suffered the same kind of tragic loss. We know that Octavio Godinez is far more than merely a name of a victim or a future number to add to the statistics toll. He was a man who will always be remembered and greatly missed by those who loved him. And I for one will keep them close in my Prayers
Mary Vivenzi
8045 Beverly Drive #2
Rohnert Park Ca. 94928
(707)-795-0783

Your story is about my husband and my father. I understand that this story is a great "teaching tool" to let employers/employees know that there are risks in the work place no matter how small, but you make it sound as though my father and my husband did something wrong. You failed to mention that they were starting this business together and there was no one else, they were the only 2 employees... Until Lowe’s or Home Depot start a delivery service there was no other choice but to have someone left alone. It was something that happened everyday as both of them made frequent trips to get supplies and unfortunately it wasn’t my husbands turn to go. Tavi had no idea how badly he was injured, he called my father to let him know that he might need to a few stitches. Since it was only a quarter inch cut he didn't think it was life threatening. I miss my husband terribly and my 10 month old son will never get to know his father but I don't blame him or my father for what happened. His death is a tragedy and all I can chalk it up to is an unfortunate series of events that have changed our lives forever.

Jennifer:
Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with our readers. I was deeply moved by your husband's death, and now by your beautifully stated response to the blog story.
My goal in writing was certainly not to assess blame. As you point out, your husband died because of an unusual set of circumstances and ultimately, perhaps, just due to bad luck. As one interested in risk management, I try to increase awareness of risk on the job - in this particular case - of people working by themselves. The thought of your husband, alone, injured, and having to make decisions about his treatment, led me to think about others in his position. I'm not at all sure that your husband and father could have or should have done anything differently. I would like to believe that others can learn from their story.
Beyond that, I can only offer my sincerest sympathy for your loss.
Jon Coppelman

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This page contains a single entry by Jon Coppelman published on June 23, 2006 10:21 AM.

News roundup: Cavalcade of Risk, comments, lunch breaks, and quick takes was the previous entry in this blog.

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