In First for Israeli Police Unit, Indictment Recommended in Death of Construction Worker

Work accident investigators recommend charging five suspects for causing death by negligence and other safety violations over April fatality of Chinese man

Emergency services at the scene of a construction-site accident in Petah Tikva, Israel, January 26, 2019.
Moti Milrod

The Israeli police unit responsible for investigating work accidents has for the first time recommended that charges be brought in the case of a construction worker’s death.

The Peles unit, a unit of Lahav 433, has recommended charging five suspects with causing death by negligence and other safety violations. The accident took place in April at a building site in Ramle, and this is the first case of death the unit has investigated since it was set up at the end of last year.

The investigation showed that the laborer, Sha Hwei, a Chinese citizen aged 45, was killed when a crane accidently hit a pile of iron bars at height of several dozen meters, and one of the bars fell on him and penetrated his helmet. One of the failings the investigation uncovered was that while the man directing the crane operator from the ground was Chinese, the crane operator was an Arab and it’s possible they had difficulty understanding each other.

>> Read more: Why Israel isn't doing more to prevent construction workers' deaths | Analysis ■ Israel’s construction accidents: Not mishaps, but negligence | Opinion

The unit recommended indicting the site’s work manager, two workers responsible for electricity at the site, the crane operator and the man directing the operator. The investigation also showed that there were many safety deficiencies on the site the day of the accident, and that the behavior of the suspects contributed to the fatal result. Police said the investigation file would be transferred shortly to the Central District prosecution.

Altogether the police arrested seven suspects for causing death by negligence and other safety violations, and detained four others. After the incident, the police closed the building site because of the safety violations.

Peles was formed at the end of December, after a delay of two-and-half years, under the auspices of the National Economic Enforcement Unit in Lahav 433. State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan had advised setting up the unit in 2016 after serious failures emerged in the investigation of work accidents and the low number of indictments filed in such cases. Haaretz reported several delays in establishing the unit, after government ministries kept passing the buck between them, and despite Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s criticism of the delays.

In March of last year the police wrote that the unit would not investigate every work accident, but would focus on “Events with special characteristics, like complex accidents involving infrastructure collapses, in accordance with the commanders’ judgment.”

On Tuesday a civilian contractor for the army was killed by the explosion of a fire extinguisher on an army base and a 40-year-old construction worker was electrocuted while working on a roof in Petah Tikva. With the two men’s death, the number of people killed in work accidents in 2019 rose to 53.