Four Construction Workers Killed in Workplace Accidents This Week

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The site of the construction accident in Harish, March 20, 2019.
The site of the construction accident in Harish, March 20, 2019.Credit: United Hatzalah Spokesperson

A 34-year-old construction worker fell to his death on Tuesday at a construction site in Harish. The man, an unidentified Moldovan national, was the third worker this week to die at a building site in the northern Israeli town.

Magen David Adom paramedics called to the scene tried but failed to resuscitate the man, who was pronounced dead at the scene. MDA paramedic Itay Tillinger said his team found the man lying unconscious on the ground next to the six-story building.

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The man was the fourth person to die in a workplace accident in Israel this week and the 10th in 2019. Police opened an investigation into the incident, and a representative from the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry was called to the site. The ministry said the Stern construction company, which has yet to comment on the death, is managing the building project.

Yitzhak Stern, the contractor, currently manages 22 active construction sites. Five accidents have taken place at the company's sites, and 17 safety orders have been filed against him, some of which are on the basis of work from dangerous heights, life-threatening electrical defects and defective scaffolding.  

Labor Minister Haim Katz ordered the safety director on Tuesday to close several construction sites in the town indefinitely. The ministry sent safety inspectors to a number of construction sites in town, among them the site in which Tuesday’s accident occurred.

Katz's order is misleading; the law states that a safety order closing a site remains in effect until the noted defects are fixed, and an inspector needs to revisit the site within two working days of the contractor reporting the corrections. In practice, the site may reopen in a matter of days.

In the absence of heavy sanctions, the same companies and even construction sites repeatedly receive safety orders, rendering them meaningless. The Coalition against Construction Site Accidents has been calling on the Labor Ministry to amend the law and give inspectors the authority to close down construction sites with dire or repeated safety violations for extended periods of time.

Katz blames the contractors for the accidents, and did not mention his ministry's responsibility in preventing them. "After all the effort we've invested in creating the missing detterence factor over the years in the construction industry, I expected that 2019 would show a decisive change in the trend," he said. "We will continue to take stronger steps against the contractors where it hurts them most — in their pockets — until they internalize the importance of closely following safety regulations and take responsibility for the workers’ wellbeing.”

Three other workers were killed and two others wounded in work accidents earlier this week across Israel. Fahed Yousuf Ghneimat, 38, was fatally injured at a factory in the Netivot industrial zone and died soon thereafter. That afternoon, two construction workers, Damen Joul Tatour and Amin Nasser Bsoul, died in Harish after falling from a seven-story building.

On Friday, a 19-year-old air-conditioner technician fell to his death from the third floor of an office building in Tel Aviv.

Hadas Tagari, director of the Coalition against Construction Site Accidents, said Tuesday: “After it became clear that implementing regulations authorizing safety inspectors to levy fines for safety violations resoundingly failed, it is once again clear that there is an urgency in levying sanctions that will deter safety violations.”

The founder of the Forum for Prevention of Accidents in the Workplace, Reuven Ben Shimon, commented: “The anarchy in construction sites continues, and the Labor Ministry under Haim Katz has failed to protect the most invisible and weakest workers in Israeli society. The subject of construction site safety is not on the agenda, and barely any party talks about the lives of workers, who are left to die in silence.”

Gadeer Nicola, an attorney for Kav LaOved, the Worker’s Hotline, said: “Closing construction sites that endanger workers is the most elementary matter expected of a responsible authority. They should not have waited for three people to be killed in construction sites for the safety manager to start enforcement there, and it is insufficient to rely on stop-work orders, which expire when the defects are repaired. A contractor whose construction site in practice risks the lives of its workers should be shut down for at least 30 consecutive days. Only a hit to the pockets of the contractors can stop the slaughter in construction sites."

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