Without Inspectors, Health Ministry Regulations at Construction Sites Go Unmonitored

With inspectors on vacation due to the coronavirus pandemic, there are fewer people to monitor construction sites but government officials claim they're not to blame

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Construction workers are seen receiving a temperature check at a site in Tel Aviv, March 2020.
Construction workers are seen receiving a temperature check at a site in Tel Aviv, March 2020.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

With 70 percent of Labor and Social Services Ministry’s inspectors sent home, tens of thousands of construction workers continue to work at construction sites with no reduction in workload and without a supervisory body ensuring compliance with Health Ministry regulations.

Laborers and work supervisors have appealed to the Group for Combating Work and Industrial Accidents, expressing their concerns for their health, given their close contact with others while working in large groups.

In a letter to Labor Minister Ofir Akunis, a safety inspector who monitors several sites in Israel’s central region wrote that the guidelines prohibiting group gatherings and stipulate that six feet should be kept between individuals are not met “due to the nature of construction work.”

“There are large construction sites of over a hundred employees working together. I, like many of my colleagues, must continue to work,” since stopping work will endanger our continued employment, he said. “I, like many colleagues, are worried and confused. Please protect us as workers from the dangers to our health and that of our families.”

However, in a special discussion at the Knesset’s Labor, Health and Welfare Committee handling work accidents at constructions sites and lack of protection against coronavirus on Tuesday, a Housing Ministry representative said that “much of the work at construction sites is solo work, so the industry knows how to protect its workers and abide by the regulations.”

According to the Chief Inspector at the Labor and Social Services Ministry, Hezi Schwartzman, the responsibility for workers’ lives lies with the workers. “Every worker has the responsibility for protecting his life, inspectors are there to increase safety at construction sites,” he said. “In any case they have a heavy burden these days and the reality at construction sites is problematic and dangerous. It’s not our job to disperse gatherings there.”

It was not only the Construction and Housing Ministry which evaded responsibility; the Health Ministry did as well. The director of the ministry’s National Center for Infection Control, Prof. Yehuda Carmeli, said at the committee meeting that every person must look after his own health. “The ministry regulations do not relate to specific work sites. The ministry is about to release directives to workers which will specify protective measures, dependent on proximity to others. You can’t give directives related to every hammer and nail”, he said.

The committee’s chairman, MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List), warned that “there are thousands of workers who come into contact with many others every day. They could be a major source of infection and infect the entire population. The state has defined construction workers as essential, but inspectors have been sent home.”

“If you demand that Palestinian workers remain in Israel for two months, there must be a way to absolve them from paying for medical services,” she added.

Last week, the Group for Combating Work and Industrial Accidents appealed to the Prime Minister and the Ministers of Labor and Social services, Health and Housing, demanding that they give detailed guidelines about procedures and protective measures that are required to protect workers, defining the regulatory agency responsible for their enforcement. So far, nothing has happened.

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