Israel Police Launches First-ever Investigation Into Construction-site Deaths

Investigators from the Peles unit arrest seven suspects following death of Chinese worker in Ramle

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

The new Israel Police unit tasked with investigating deaths at construction sites embarked on its first inquiry, into a case involving a Chinese worker who died after iron bars fell on him on Sunday in Ramle.

The unit, called Peles (a Hebrew acronym for "workers at no risk"), was launched in late 2018 and operates within the Lahav 433 crime-fighting department. Although 11 construction workers have died on the job already this year, this was the unit's first investigation.

So far seven people have been arrested in the case, on suspicion of negligence and committing safety-related crimes; they include the site manager and a crane operator. Four others have been detained for questioning.

At the site in question, on Jabotinsky Street in Ramle, a crane inadvertently hit some iron bars several dozen meters above ground, which fell and struck the 45-year-old worker. He was taken Assaf Harofeh Hospital in critical condition and succumbed to his injuries later in the day.

A dangerous construction site in Israel, July 4, 2018
Bar Peleg

The police stopped construction at the site after they discovered various safety hazards there.

Last month Haaretz reported that the Peles unit, which was created in view of the extremely high mortality rate in the country's construction industry, had yet to look into any accidents, according to Kav LaOved – Worker's Hotline. The NGO was thus informed in response to the freedom-of-information request it had filed.

On Monday Kav LaOved applauded the launch of the first probe. “We hope this is not a one-time announcement spurred by the criticism that arose by virtue of the information we received, which was revealed by the press,” the organization stated.

“We hope that the investigation will be thorough, the findings will be revealed to the public, the family will be apprised of what happened to its loved one, and the responsible parties will answer to the law,” read the Kav LaOved statement. “Too often we see investigations that begin but lead nowhere. The public is watching and the failure to complete investigations must stop.”

In March the police clarified that the new unit will not investigate every work accident, but will focus on “events with unique characteristics, such as complex accidents involving the collapse of infrastructure, or the kind that require a great deal of knowledge and resources, at the discretion of the authority in command.”

The police added that Peles would track down parties responsible for safety hazards at construction sites and would look into incidents of possible criminal conduct in the industry, including those involving companies and contractors who do not comply with the law in the management of their sites.

Establishment of the unit in December 2018 followed two-and-a-half years of foot-dragging by government ministries and other bodies, despite criticism by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit. The state prosecutor, Shai Nitzan, recommended in 2016 that such a department be created due to the lack of investigations of casualties at work sites and the small number of indictments handed down in the cases examined.