Attorney General Tells Cops, Welfare Ministry to Finally Solve Problem of Construction Accidents

Between 2011 and 2015, 303 people were killed in work accidents, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit says.

Construction in Rishon Letzion, December 22, 2016.
Ofer Vaknin

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has asked the police and Social Affairs Ministry to end the years of foot-dragging and find solutions to the problem of accidents at construction sites.

In a letter obtained by Haaretz, Mendelblit asked Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich to establish a national police unit that would investigate work accidents with the help of the Social Affairs Ministry. He asked Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz to increase the number of labor inspectors and improve their working conditions.

In the letter, Mendelblit asked Alsheich and Katz to quickly move on his suggestion to enforce safety rules at construction sites “with the goal of preventing work accidents in advance.” This would include an increase in the number of inspectors, who would receive higher salaries in part as a way to fill vacant positions.

At the end of last month, Mendelblit also sent the letter to Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Civil Service Commissioner Moshe Dayan.

This is the first time the attorney general has taken a significant step to solve the problem, and it comes after the police and relevant ministries delayed the implementation of recommendations to establish a national investigative unit.

Katz opposed the increase in the number of inspectors, even though per capita Israel has only one-third of the number of inspectors compared with the average in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, of which Israel is a member.

Mendelblit’s letter came at the request of State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan. In recent months, Nitzan has sent a number of letters of his own asking for progress on the matter, said a source involved in the issue.

According to the source, Mendelblit considers implementation of his recommendations a matter of prevention and criminal enforcement and one of particularly great importance.

Between 2011 and 2015, 303 people were killed in work accidents, and between 2011 and 2014, more than 195,000 people were injured, Mendelblit said in the letter.

In 2015, people injured in work accidents received more than 4.5 billion shekels ($1.2 billion) in compensation, said Mendelblit, who noted that there were also indirect economic costs of the injuries and deaths.

More than six months ago, Nitzan recommended the establishment of a national investigative unit after finding a “structural difficulty” in the way work accidents were being investigated. The police crafted a plan on the matter that was submitted to Public Security Minister Erdan in November, but no real steps were taken.

Last month Katz told Haaretz that the current number of inspectors could do the job. The reforms he is promoting to heavily fine contractors who violate the regulations would dramatically improve the situation, Katz said.

Katz’s office said he had sent the Civil Service Commission and the Finance Ministry a letter asking for approval of everything required by the Institute for Occupational Safety and Hygiene, which is responsible for labor inspectors.