Israel Has One of Highest Rates of Construction Accidents in West, Report Shows

In 2015 alone, 50,000 people were injured and 54 killed in work accidents in Israel, the majority of them construction laborers.

A laborer at a construction site in Ashkelon.
Ilan Assayag

Israel has one of the highest rates of construction accidents in the Western world – more than twice the European average and more than five times the British average — according to a new report.

Between 2000 and 2015, 480 people were killed in construction accidents in Israel, according to the report compiled by the Economy Ministry and the National Insurance Institute, released on Sunday.

Israel is in third from last place in the survey, which included the United States and 20 European Union countries. Only Cyprus and Portugal had more work fatalities and injuries. In 2015 alone, 50,000 people were injured in work accidents in Israel, and 54 were killed, 63 percent of whom were construction workers. Between 2011 and 2014, more than 195,000 people were injured in work accidents.

The report also revealed the economic burden of work accidents – since 2010, more than 24 billion shekels ($6.33 billion) have been paid in compensation and the amount of compensation has gone up every year. This figure does not include indirect damage to workplaces – an estimated 2 million work days are lost every year, the report states, “with a loss to the economy of billions of shekels more.”

The report was written by Varda Edwards, head of the safety administration in the Economy Ministry, and Rivka Prior, head of the department of disabilities in the National Insurance Institute’s research and planning administration.

According to the report, the number of injuries at work declined by 7 percent between 2011 and 2015 and the number fatalities declined by 25 percent. However, it also shows that the five-year average fatalities and injuries has been on the rise since 2011. The five-year average in the construction industry for 2010 was 25.4 fatalities per 100,000 and in 2015 it was 33.2 per 100,000.

The Coalition Against Construction Accidents said in response: “The rise in the number of fatalities reflects neglect and lack of resources invested by the state to fight work accidents in general and construction accidents in particular. Nothing illustrates this better than the fact that the state’s investment, including the budget for prevention, is less than 1 percent of the cost to the economy from work accidents presented in detail in the report," the organization said.

The report states that work in the construction industry is the most dangerous in the country for its employees, who are five times more likely to be killed on the job compared to workers in other industries.

In addition to more preventive measures, the report calls for “involvement by management in the various sectors, who must realize the depth of the damage that work accidents cause in general to the strength of the workplace.”

The report also reveals that half of all the workers killed and injured in construction accidents were sub-contracted, making it easier for the contractors who employ them only indirectly to evade responsibility for deaths and injuries. According to the report, the fault for this situation lies with the authorities. “The contractors do not at present have enough incentives to make their sites safe. Just this week a Palestinian worker was severely injured in Be’er Sheva at a site where severe safety deficiencies were found, but work proceeded as usual. Without significant investment by the state in this issue we will continue to bury workers,” said Reuven Ben-Shimon, a safety administrator and founder of the Forum Against Work Accidents.

The report also found that in 2015 foreign workers were twice as likely to lose their lives as Israeli workers, even though most construction workers are Israeli citizens.

The report also includes for the first time an appendix with details of fatal accidents in 2015 and the names of some of the companies responsible for the site where the accidents occurred. The information was added this time as a result of freedom-of-information applications filed by the Coalition Against Construction Accidents.

The Economy Ministry said that in light of the seriousness of the findings, the Safety Administration was emphasizing increased enforcement of regulations in the construction industry. This would include ascertaining compliance by contractors.