Construction-site Deaths in Israel Continue to Climb With Another Worker Killed in North

26 such fatalities recorded this year, compared to 34 in all of last year; building laborer in Tel Aviv suffers grave injuries.

A construction worker in Ashkelon, 2014.
Ilan Assayag

A construction worker was killed on the job on Monday, the 26th such victim of the year – compared to 34 killed in all of last year – and another one suffered grave head injuries in a building accident. Meanwhile, the Knesset’s new proposal to reduce building site accidents amounts to a bureaucratic shuffle.

The latest casualty is Ra’ad Awad Mahmoud, 28, from the village of Bala’a near Tul Karm. He was critically injured Sunday when he was electrocuted at a construction site in Rosh Ha’ayin, and on Monday he succumbed to his injuries at Beilinson Hospital. He was married with three children, and the accident occurred on just his fourth day at the construction site for the Tidhar on the Park project. The site has been shut down for now while authorities investigate.

Meanwhile, a 37-year-old construction worker from Daliat al-Carmel suffered grave head injuries on Monday after being trapped in a deep pit following an explosion an Isrotel Tel Aviv construction site. The contracting company is Ariel Gabay Infrastructure Ltd. The Work Safety Administration reports: “The worker was apparently injured by a part that came off a water pump of a drilling machine. The machine has been shut down and the work has been halted.”

Hadas Tagari, director of the Coalition against Construction Accidents, said, “Every day, hundreds of thousands of workers go to work at 13,000 construction sites, often to work under life-threatening conditions, and the government stands idly by. We call on the government to take immediate steps to dramatically increase the number of inspectors and investigators in the safety administration, to empower the administration to enforce strict sanctions against negligent contractors, to instruct the state prosecutor to pursue thorough criminal investigations concerning the deaths of construction workers due to negligence, to make it mandatory to appoint a safety chief at large construction sites, to revoke the licenses of negligent contractors, and to promote legislation that will place legal responsibility for workers safety on senior officials.”

A proposal has been made to establish a National Construction Worker Safety Authority under the Housing Ministry, in an effort to link building planning, enforcement of building standards and construction-site safety under one roof. At present, responsibility for construction lies with the Housing Ministry, while construction safety is the purview of the Work Safety Administration, which recently moved from the Economics Ministry to the Welfare Ministry.

The initiative is part of a new bill by MK Eli Alaluf (Kulanu), MK Eyal Ben-Reuven (Zionist Union) and Abedel Haim Hajj (Joint List). Another bill they co-authored, stipulating that a construction site where a serious or fatal accident has occurred must be shut down for two days, was approved several days ago. The new bill will be brought up when the Knesset is back in session.

The new bill proposes to establish an authority whose task will be to reduce the incidence of work accidents and injuries. It will merge the prevention and enforcement authority of the two bodies currently responsible for these areas: the Work Safety Administration and the Israel Institute for Occupational Safety and Hygiene. The new authority will also work to formulate national policy on the issue, propose legislative changes and promote research and educational materials.

“There is an emergency situation in the construction industry that demands immediate and significant intervention. The current situation does ongoing damage to the Israeli economy, which has to pay high stipends to the injured and absorb an absence of work days,” the bill’s sponsors wrote. In 2014 alone, 5,828 construction workers received compensation from the state, comprising nearly a third of all workplace compensation payments. The cost to the Israeli economy from workplace accidents is estimated at 15 billion shekels (about $3.925 million) a year.

“Our goal is to bring an end to this terrible situation in the industry that claims the lives of dozens of workers each year,” says Alaluf, who also chairs the Knesset Work and Welfare Committee.