Nothing less than Sh20 million: Lawyers advise family of man who died in steel mill

Caleb Otieno

Caleb Otieno, who fell into a metal boiler at Thika-based Blue Nile Rolling Mills Limited.

Photo credit: Pool I Nation Media Group

Top lawyers and human resource consultants have expressed outrage over a Sh420,000 payout that a Thika-based firm is offering the family of a man who died in a vat of molten steel at its factory.

The family of Caleb Otieno, 35, has rejected the compensation offered by Blue Nile Rolling Mills Ltd, where the man slipped into a boiler and was obliterated last month.

Only pieces of bone and teeth that required DNA testing to identify him were found. The remains were packed in three small sacks.

Otieno's father, Martin Oraro, 74, said he was stunned that despite the family’s grief, and the pain of not even having a body for closure, his son’s employer would place such a paltry price on his son’s life.

“After I was informed my son had died, I travelled all the way from Kisumu to Thika. I met the management of the company where my son was working. I was accompanied by my family members and in the meeting was the human resources manager of the company, the managing director, and the Thika DCIO Joseph Thuvi.

“The company offered me Sh100,000, and when I asked them about the compensation, the HR manager told me that they would compensate me with a third of Sh21,000 that my son was earning per month for the five years he worked as a permanent employee. That is the last thing I heard from the company,'' Mr Oraro said.

''They told me this would translate to Sh7,000 per month. When my other son, John Agwambo, did the calculations, we realised the compensation would be Sh420,000 for all the five years he worked there as a permanent employee, yet it is safety negligence at the company that made my son die. We felt ridiculed and denied justice,'' Mr Oraro added.

Yesterday, lawyer Donald Kipkorir said Otieno’s family should not accept anything less than Sh20 million as compensation.

“The compensation sum family of Caleb Otieno who died a horrible death in Blue Nile Rolling Mills, Thika, ought to be paid under Law Reform Act, Cap 26 and Fatal Accident Act, Cap 32, if Otieno worked up to 60 years is: Sh21,000=x12x1/3x35=Sh2,940,00,” Mr Kipkorir said.

“(The) above computation is for loss of life and expectancy. His family is also entitled to general damages for pain and suffering. This is (at the) discretion of the court … the compensation in total is well over Sh20 million,” he added.

Mr Kipkorir told the Daily Nation on phone yesterday that what Blue Nile Rolling Mills Ltd was offering to Otieno’s family was not in line with the Work Injury Benefits Act.

He argues that Otieno’s family should be compensated with a third of his gross salary multiplied by 12 months, multiplied by the years he would have worked had he not met his death.

Otieno, he went on, could have retired from the company at between 60 and 65 years of age, the normal age at which people working for the private sector and government retire, saying the latter should shape the legal process for compensation to the family.

''An employer has an obligation for the health and safety of his employees. Either they are insured or not,” he added.

Former President of the Law Society of Kenya Nelson Havi also argues that although no amount of money can replace a life, Otieno’s employer had an obligation to ensure the safety of its employees and the family should be compensated well.

“Compensation for wrongful death of a youthful working male adult cannot be less than Sh20 million. Blue Nile Rolling Mills Ltd must have insurance on this risk. Let them pay Caleb Otieno’s family,” said Mr Havi.

Mr Patrick Alando, the managing partner at Human Capital Management Consultants, explained that the compensation should be guided by the Work Injury Benefits Act of 2007, which outlines the types of injuries and their compensations under permanent injuries, temporary and death.

“If an employee dies as a result of an injury caused by an accident, compensation shall be paid to the dependants of the employee in accordance with the provisions of the Third Schedule, subject to the maximum and minimum amount determined by the minister after consultation with the council. (2) No amount may be deducted from the compensation awarded under this section to a dependant in respect of any compensation awarded to the employee in respect of the same or any other accident,” the Act reads in part

“For the purposes of this section, a dependant is deemed to have been wholly financially dependent upon the employee at the time of the accident, unless the contrary is proved. (4) In addition to the compensation payable under this section, the employer is liable to pay reasonable expenses for the funeral of the deceased employee, subject to the maximum amount determined by the minister, after consultation with the council,” the Act further reads.

Otieno will be buried on Saturday and his remains, which are mainly joint bones and teeth, have been preserved at the General Kago Funeral Home in Thika.

He had worked for the company for seven years, with five of them as a permanent employee.

Blue Nile Rolling Mills Ltd is a sister company of Blue Nile Wire Products Ltd, the manufacturer of barbed wire, and the two companies are owned and managed by Blue Nile Group.

Blue Nile Rolling Mills Ltd manufactures the Kifaru brand of steel products and recently announced that it had received Sh862 million from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) -- the private lending arm of the World Bank -- to fund its expansion in Thika, Kiambu, where their manufacturing plant is based.