The regional labor court in Be’er Sheva has determined that the Makhlouf Bechor and Sons construction company must pay 60,000 shekels ($16,500) compensation to Katy Karkolov, a crane operator who refused to work during a period of high winds, whereupon she was fired.
Judge Yael Engelberg ruled the company had violated its duty to abide by safety regulations, and had fired the crane operator “for immaterial reasons and not in good faith, only because the operator had insisted on protecting her life and health.” Karkolov’s story was first published in Haaretz in 2016.
“My victory is a victory for all crane operators,” Karkolov told Haaretz. “One cannot overrule a crane operator’s decision to stop working when it’s dangerous for him and others in the vicinity,” she said. She added that recent accidents show that working under unsafe conditions can be fatal. “I hope my story is not repeated,” she added.
Karkolov, a resident of Ashkelon, was 27 when she was fired. She said at the time that the winds were too strong on the day she refused to work. “I was afraid the crane would topple over and I’d be killed, she said.
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“Another operator and I came down and the foreman asked why we weren’t working. We told him it was too risky, but he scoffed, saying the wind posed no danger. If we refused, he said, we needn’t come back the next day.” She climbed up and down several times, afraid of losing her job and of losing her life. When it started raining she refused to go up again. “On the way home I got a call telling me I was fired,” she said. She had worked for the company for one year before being fired.
According to the Economy and Industry Ministry’s regulations a crane must not be operated when strong winds endanger workers. Ministry officials explained that every crane has different safety specifications and that its operators are authorized to determine when it’s too dangerous to work. The regulations specifically state that working on a crane should not be allowed under high winds.
Reuven Ben-Shimon, the founder of the Forum for Prevention of Work Accidents, who helped bring Krakolov’s story to public attention, said that “this was a very important ruling, giving a clear message to contractors and employers – the lives of workers come before profits. The ruling is significant since Katy was a contract worker, as are hundreds of other crane operators who are employed indirectly, thrown away like dirty socks only for not wanting to risk their lives and the ones around them.”
The Histadrut labor federation, which filed the petition against the construction company together with Krakolov, welcomed the ruling. “The struggle for the safety of workers in all areas is one that all society should care about” said the federation’s head Avi Nissenkorn.