Boy, 9, decapitated by tea plucking machine at James Finlay tea estate

James Finlay

Workers pick tea in a section of Finlay Kenya’s tea farm in Kericho County in 2019.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

A nine-year-old boy died on the spot after his head was decapitated by a tea plucking machine at the James Finlay tea estate in Bomet County.

The incident occurred in Cheptabes, Konoin constituency on Monday evening, in an accident that caused tension among the workers.

Police said the incident is under investigation.

The victim is said to have been a pupil at a local primary school and the son of a junior worker at the tea estate.

The body was taken to Kapkatet Sub-County Hospital mortuary.

Following the incident, Dickson Sang, the Kericho County branch Secretary of the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers Union (KPAWU) said the multinational tea company should be held liable for negligence as the incident occurred near a residential camp for the workers.

"Total risk assessment should have been done before the machines were introduced so as to ensure proper safeguards are out in place to curb such accidents," Mr Sang said.

Mr Sang said it was unfortunate that even after the accident occurred, operations continued on Tuesday as if no life had been lost.

It is claimed that the victim was playing hide-and-seek games with other children in the estate when he became curious about how the rotating harvesting blades work.

It is alleged that the victim stood on lines between the tea bushes and the valiant machine ran over him with the blades chopping off his head.

"As the machine operator turned the valiant around at the end of the line, a supervisor noticed that it was carrying a blood-stained cloth and between the blades. He flagged it down and on inspection and search, it was discovered a boy had been killed" said an eyewitness.

Police were called and they secured the scene and later took away the dismembered body parts.

Tension was high in the estate on Tuesday with an attempt by the workers to down tools being thwarted by the police.

"Ideally, the operations should have been called off to allow the affected family and workers to mourn, but police have been called in to ensure operations continue" Mr Sang claimed.

James Finlays Company confirmed the incident saying that it involved a self-propelled tea harvester which was operating at Cheptabes estate.

"We are offering our full support to the family, the wider community and to our colleagues who witnessed the incident. We are also working closely with the authorities" James Finlay said in a statement released by the Corporate Affairs department.

"The safety of everyone connected with our business is always our number one priority. In accordance with our Health and Safety procedures, we immediately reviewed operations of self-propelled harvesters on our estate and are urgently investigating to understand how the incident occurred"

Use of tea plucking machines has been a very contentious issue in the region with multinational companies accused of laying off thousands of workers in favour of mechanisation.