Death of 6 Construction Workers in January Fails to Yield Single Probe

Economy Minstry calls situation ‘far from ideal’ and admits that many workers are operating ‘in an unsafe manner.’

A construction worker in Ashkelon, 2014.
Ilan Assayag

Six construction workers died in January after accidents on Israeli building sites – twice the monthly average for the past five years – but no one has been arrested or questioned in connection with the deaths, Haaretz has learned.

The Economy Ministry confirmed that no criminal investigations have been launched into the latest accidents. However, it noted that its Occupational Safety and Health Administration performs professional inquiries into the accidents.

“The situation is far from ideal. We know there are a lot of workers who work in violation of the law and in an unsafe manner, and the result is often very regrettable,” Varda Edwards, the head of OSH Administration, told Haaretz.

Vitaly Asaf, 43, a construction worker from Rishon Letzion, was killed when he fell 13 meters (42 feet) from a water tower in Elad on January 5. The following day, Mohammed Dirawi, 29, died after falling four stories on a construction site in Petah Tikva. Faiza Saleh, 43, Ashraf Taha, 41, and Abu Ras Qassem, 34, died in similar circumstances on construction sites in recent weeks.

In addition to the five people who died after construction-site accidents in January, a sixth man died last month from injuries he suffered in an accident in December. Five of the fatalities were due to falls and the sixth was crushed by a concrete pump. Another worker was injured while pumping concrete.

There were 34 deaths on Israeli construction sites in 2015, or 2.8 deaths per month.

Edwards said construction-site accidents were nearly always the result of negligence and failure to comply with regulations on the part of the individuals responsible for workplace safety.

A construction worker in Tel Aviv.
Moti Milrod

“The most common cause of serious accidents on construction sites is falling from a height, and they occur in places where there are no safety precautions,” Edwards said. “If someone falls, it it presumably due to negligence.

“Accidents are the result of working incorrectly and a failure to deal with risks on the part of the contractor and responsible individuals on the construction site,” she continued, “because if our regulations are followed, the work is carried out in a safe manner and the risk of injury is low.”

Edwards said that when workers are harnessed and there is proper fencing and railings – as required by the OSH Administration – falls are rare. In the 2010 to 2015 period, falls were the most common cause of construction death, resulting in 53 fatalities.

However, prosecution is rare. According to OSH Administration figures, just seven investigators are responsible for examining the 50,000 or so work accidents that occur each year, and they don’t have time to investigate most of them.

Even in the event of investigations into deaths and serious injuries, criminal inquiries are rare – and prosecution even rarer.

A total of 184 people died in construction-related accidents between 2010 and 2015, leading to just 100 criminal investigations and only 11 indictments for negligent manslaughter at a construction site.

In that five-year period, there were 87 investigations into causing bodily harm by negligence at a construction site, but only seven indictments were filed.

“We want more investigations, because then people will know they are likely to stand trial if they do not comply with regulations,” said Edwards.