Fewer Workplace Deaths in Israel in 2020, Government Report Claims

Ministry experts omit some accidents and downplay impact of coronavirus lockdown, which has seen a slowdown in construction work, however

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Workers on a construction site in Tel Aviv get their temperature tested before going in, June 2020.
Workers on a construction site in Tel Aviv get their temperature tested before goingCredit: Ofer Vaknin
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

The number of accidental fatalities in the workplace went down during the first half of this year compared to the same period last year, says a report released by the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry’s Safety and Health Administration.

This was especially true for the construction industry. Thirteen died on construction sites in the last six months, down from 23 in the first half of 2019.

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The report omitted a fatal car accident on a construction site from the number of deaths, for example, although in previous years the administration did include such fatalities in the death count.

The Labor Ministry also questionably attributes the fatality reduction to steps it has taken and to heightened awareness of the issue. “In the period of the first coronavirus wave, construction sites went on working as usual and the reduction is attributed to increasing the enforcement,” states the report.

But the extent of construction work was significantly reduced due to the economic shutdown, according to the Israel Builders Association.

In the last three months alone, eleven workers were killed on construction sites – more than the fatalities that took place at this time two and three years ago. Last year, 15 workers were killed during this period, and this includes a crane accident in Yavne, which claimed four lives.

Dr. Hadas Tagari, who heads a coalition of organizations fighting construction site accidents, said: “It’s impossible to conclude from these figures that the number of fatalities is on a downward trend, both because the economy shut down due to the coronavirus and because last year a record number of fatalities occurred.”

She noted that during the coronavirus lockdown, employment in the construction business was drastically reduced, despite the permit to continue working as usual. This was mainly due to the reduced number of Palestinian workers employed at this time.

Indeed, a breakdown of the figures in the report shows that this accounts for most of the reduction in fatalities.

In the first half of the year one Palestinian worker was killed in a construction accident, comprising 8 percent of fatalities. Until this year, 14 -15 Palestinians lost their lives on construction sites every year, consisting of 32 – 34 percent of deaths.

A building that collapsed on a construction site in the central Israeli city of Rishon Lezion, April 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod

The workers hotline Kav LaOved said the lower death rate should be commended, but with “cautious optimism.” The NGO said the number of injured workers, 164, which was not mentioned in the report, was not an improvement over the 156 workers who were injured in the same period last year.

“Sometimes it’s only by chance that a worker is injured and not killed, and there’s no doubt the lives of workers who are injured on construction sites are unrecognizably altered. We hope that further steps are taken so that workers can go to work and make a living for their families without fearing for their safety,” said Kav LaOved.

The overall data shows that 18 workers were killed in workplace accidents this year, in all industries, compared to 47 by the first half of last year.

But the ministry omitted eight fatal accidents that occurred during these months. The coalition fighting against construction site accidents listed 26 fatalities in the past six months, consisting of three heavy vehicle accidents. A construction worker was killed after being run down by a backhoe loader, a sanitation worker was killed after falling off a moving garbage truck and a third died when the tractor he was working on turned over.

Another accident took place in a West Bank plant, so isn’t included in the report, while four others were omitted for unknown reasons.

“We take a grim view of the administration’s manipulating the figures and of the lack of transparency regarding work accidents. The high numbers indicate that the negligence in safety measures is continuing,” Tagari said.

The report finds that the cause for most fatal accidents is falling from a height – 14 of the 18 fatal accidents listed were caused by this, 11 of them on construction sites.

From January to June 2020 the number of inspectors’ visits to all work sites increased by 41 percent, from 6,492 to 9,127 and the number of inspectors’ visits to construction sites increased by 74 percent, rising from 3,362 to 5,855.

The report also says ”this year the safety administration continued to initiate combined enforcement steps, some including the police, local governments etc.”