Contractor, Site Manager Arrested After Worker Falls to His Death in Israel

The managers were charged with accounts of negligent homicide - a rare occurrence in Israel, where fatal construction site accidents usually go without prosecution

The building site where the construction worker fell to his death, May 30, 2018.

The site manager and the general contractor for a building project where a construction worker fell to his death Wednesday were arrested Thursday on suspicion of negligent homicide.

The suspects were not named, but were identified as a 33-year-old man from Umm al-Fahm and a 58-year-old man from Kiryat Ono. They were questioned by police and were to be brought before a judge for a detention hearing.

In most cases, no arrests are made in fatal construction-site accidents, and prosecution is even rarer.

In 2016, 50 construction workers were killed and at least 207 were injured moderately or seriously in construction site accidents. According to Israel Police figures, no charges have been filed in any of those cases. From 2010-15, 180 construction workers were killed but only 90 police investigations were opened, 11 indictments were filed for negligent homicide and eight people were convicted. In none of the cases did anyone serve a prison sentence and the average fine levied for negligent homicide in the death of a construction worker was 7,000 shekels ($1,960).

Munir Salah, 30, from the Qalqilyah-area village of Azbat Salman in the West Bank, fell from a height of 8 meters Wednesday at a site in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak operated by Yesh Lee Or Construction. He was the 17th worker to die in a building-site accident this year — a 30-percent increase over the same period last year, when 13 people were killed. Five construction workers were killed in May.

After Salah’s death, the police began a joint investigation with the Labor Ministry, and the preliminary findings showed suspicions of negligence and safety violations that endangered workers at the site. The police said it “sees great importance in carrying out enforcement in the area of work accidents and will continue to carry out enforcement in combination with the rest of the enforcement bodies in order to prevent repetition of tragedies in this area.”

The Labor Ministry said Wednesday that Yesh Lee Or was known to it from previous enforcement drives, adding that the contractor was questioned by police in April for failing to register a different site with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In addition, in 2017 serious safety flaws were found in two other sites operated by Yesh Lee Or, in Ramat Gan and in Bnei Brak.

In early April, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said a new police unit to investigate work safety accidents would be established during 2018, under the auspices of the Lahav 433 national major investigations unit. But now the plan is for this unit to begin work only in 2019. In 2016, State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan recommended establishing the unit because of the serious problems in investigating construction work accident as well as the low number of indictments filed in such cases.

In internal discussions, the police admit that police officers do not have the professional knowledge needed to investigate construction site accidents.

Many of the building-site accidents that went unreported occurred in Bnei Brak. Hadas Tagari, head of the Coalition to Prevent Construction Accidents, said after Salah’s death that “there is an extreme disregard for safety in Bnei Brak, many building sites are dangerous and many sites haven’t been reported to the Occupational Safety Institute. They constitute a serious threat to the residents of the renovated buildings, to passersby and to the workers.”