Israel Set to Pass Bill Beefing Up Construction-site Safety

Legislation requires sites to have safety officer on hand; today, nobody at construction sites is responsible exclusively for safety

A Labor Ministry supervisor at a construction site in Ashdod.
Avi Hayoun

The government will back a bill requiring every construction site to have a safety officer on hand as well as a site supervisor, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation decided on Sunday.

Today, nobody at construction sites is responsible exclusively for safety. Instead, the site supervisor is responsible for that on top of being responsible for the actual construction and its pace – a dual responsibility that often creates a conflict of interests. Since the start of the year, 13 construction workers have been killed in work accidents.

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The bill, which was sponsored by MKs Eyal Ben-Reuven (Zionist Union), Eli Alalouf (Kulanu) and Abd al-Hakim Hajj Yahya (Joint List), will now go the Knesset for consideration. Given the government’s backing, it is expected to pass.

“Today, the site manager at a construction site must cope with safety issues at the site alongside all the other ongoing tasks,” the bill’s explanatory notes say. “In practice, at sites both large and small, the order of priorities is different, and at most of them the issue of safety is pushed to the sidelines. The site manager by himself isn’t able to ensure appropriate safety measures, even if he wants to.”

The safety officer will be one of the regular workers at the site. It’s not yet clear what professional qualifications and experience he will need; the bill authorizes the labor and social affairs minister to decide this with approval from the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee. He will also decide how many safety officers the site supervisor must appoint.

The original bill required the safety officer to be a trained engineer. But after that provision ran into opposition, the sponsors negotiated changes with the Finance Ministry and the housing cabinet, resulting in the current bill.

“In another few years, when we finish the battle against construction accidents, Israelis will have trouble believing that in 2018, people still worked in such a sloppy manner,” Ben-Reuven said. “They’ll have trouble imagining how construction laborers worked like sitting ducks, with every workday liable to end, for them and their families, in unnecessary death. But we’re still at the start of the road. Many more steps are needed.”

Reuven Ben-Shimon, founder of the Forum for the Prevention of Work Accidents, said, “This is a welcome and necessary proposal, which must be one of several additional steps to be taken in the near future, and they’re a result of the issue being put on the public agenda. For decades, the state has abandoned construction workers and let contractors do whatever they please and skimp on safety in favor of profits.”

Last year, 35 construction workers were killed in 256 accidents, and 229 workers were moderately to seriously injured. Around 85 percent of the workers killed were non-Israeli.