Construction Worker Deaths on the Rise in Israel

Increased site inspections have barely produced more orders to address safety violations.

Police officers at the Netanya construction site where a 37-year-old worker fell to his death, March 29, 2016.
Tomer Appelbaum

The number of construction workers killed on the job has doubled over the past six months despite increased safety inspections of building sites, Haaretz has found.

Data released Monday by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration shows that during the first half of 2016, 28 people, 16 of whom were construction workers, were killed on the job. In comparison, eight construction workers were killed on the job in the first half of last year.

The figures show that five workers were killed in industrial accidents, five in the service industry, and two on farms.

Comparing the six-month report with the administration’s latest quarterly report shows that inspectors made approximately 4,000 site visits in the second quarter as opposed to 3,000 in the first – an increase of about 33 percent. However, the number of orders to address safety violations issued remained the same: about 320.

Increased inspections should have reduced the number of accidents, as well as sending a warning from the administration to the contractors. But in fact, the increased number of visits by inspectors did not produce more orders requiring the contractors to fix safety violations.

For example, inspectors made 631 site visits in the south in the past six months, as opposed to an average of 125 per quarter – a fourfold increase – but only twice the number of safety-related orders were issued. Jerusalem building sites also received 631 visits by inspectors in the first six months of 2016, as opposed to an average of 151 visits per quarter – a threefold increase. But there, too, the number of safety orders remained almost unchanged.

Hadas Tagari, the head of the Coalition for Prevention of Construction Accidents, said that more inspections had indeed been carried out, but if a site had no accidents, it was not because more safety instructions had been issued or improvements were made.

The coalition said its figures showed three additional deaths on construction sites than were not included in the government statistics, bringing the total number of fatalities to 19 – not 16 – in the first six months of this year. In an accident on May 16, Khaled Biari was killed when he fell from scaffolding in Jaffa. In another, the day before Biari was killed, Abed Elnassar Shalabi fell from a ladder at a construction site in Acre and died of a heart attack. In March, a Chinese worker, Ran Shiadong, fell from a height during work on a ship in the Ashdod Port.

“The number of deaths over several years just keeps going up and the number of deaths is very high in any case,” Tagari said, adding that despite the public outcry over the situation, nothing is changing. “The lack of manpower is acute and not one more inspector was added over the past year.”

Tagari pointed out that no criminal proceedings have been launched for breach of safety procedures and no indictments have been issued. “Safety orders and inspection visits are nice but that is not enough. Criminal proceeds is the only deterrent there is,” she added.

Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz, who was recently put in charge of the Safety Administration after it was transferred from the Economy Ministry, has promised to institute reforms. “Upon taking up my office as social affairs minister, I am committed to putting a stop to the criminal neglect at construction sites,” Katz said Monday, adding that he would soon be instituting new procedures to improve the situation.

“It’s high time that employers stop speaking in slogans and start taking responsibility for their failures,” said Varda Edwards, the head of the of Occupational Safety and Health Administration. She added that the administration would not allow work to go on at sites where safety hazards were found. “In the near future enforcement operations will continue against more firms where the figures show serious disregard,” she said.

Last week, the administration carried out inspections at 34 construction sites of two firms, Ortam Sahar and Asum, in light of repeated safety violations, including failure to safely conduct work from heights. The inspectors ordered a shutdown of 13 sites, and investigations were launched by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration at four of those.