Israel to Immediately Shutter Accident-prone Building Sites

Last year thousands of accidents occurred at building sites, but the ministry issued only 422 safety injunctions.

The construction site in Ashdod where a Chinese worker fell five stories to his death, February 21, 2016.
Ilan Assayag

The Economy Ministry will henceforth shut down any building site where an accident was caused by safety lapses until the problems are fixed, a new ministry regulation says.

Until now, building sites have not been shut down when accidents occurred. Instead, ministry inspectors merely issued injunctions requiring safety problems to be corrected – and even that was done in only a fraction of accident cases.

Last year, for instance, thousands of accidents occurred at building sites, but the ministry issued only 422 safety injunctions.

On Tuesday, the new regulation was used for the first time, when the ministry shut down a building site in Ashdod where this week a Chinese construction worker fell five stories to his death.

“Our investigation shows clearly that there was a safety problem at the Ashdod site, and it won’t resume operations until this problem is fixed,” Varda Edwards, head of the ministry’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, told Haaretz.

“The new expanded safety injunction represents an overall stiffening of our policy,” she said, adding that the administration was constantly trying to improve the situation.

“The injunction has economic significance for the contractors, because for the first time the site will be closed for some time, which will hurt them financially,” she said.

“You have to understand that a building site is a dangerous place, and we want to ensure that at a place where an accident occurred, no further accidents will occur. The rise in the number of people killed has led us to rethink this issue and decide on the new policy of more stringent injunctions.”

By issuing the new regulation, the ministry has acceded to one of the chief demands made by the dead workers’ families and NGOs dealing with the issue.

Hadas Tagari is director of the coalition for preventing construction accidents, one of the groups that pushed for the new regulation.

“We hope we won’t see any more building sites continuing to work as usual immediately after removing an injured worker or the body of a worker killed in an accident that raises weighty suspicions of negligence by the site’s management, as has happened in dozens of cases in recent months,” she said.

Still, Tagari added, the ministry has yet to take steps to increase the number of building inspectors – currently just 17 for some 1,300 construction sites – even though the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee demanded that it do so in December.

Sources told Haaretz that the ministry is also working on other new safety regulations for construction sites. It has been years since these regulations were last updated.

One proposal the ministry is considering is making the contractor legally liable for safety problems at construction sites. Currently, the contractor has the option of appointing a site manager, and if he does, legal liability usually rests with that manager.

“The moment the contractor has more liability, he’ll be called to account,” Edwards said. “Today the principal causes of accidents, like a lack of fencing or safety issues with railings, ladders, pits and so forth, are the work manager’s responsibility.”

The ministry also plans to amend the regulation governing cranes, which hasn’t been changed since 1988. Today, a person needs no license or special training to work on erecting tower cranes. Ministry officials said this issue was crucial because it was dangerous to both erect or work on a tower crane.

Just two weeks ago, a crane collapsed in Holon, but ministry inspectors first visited the site only four days later. They said this was because the accident hadn’t been reported to them; they learned about it on social media. The accident is now under investigation.

“Why did the contractor not report the incident in real time, in violation of the regulations?” asked Reuven Ben Shimon, a safety officer at a construction company and director of the Forum for the Prevention of Work Accidents. “We found out about the incident before the Economy Ministry did. That’s an illogical situation that must be corrected.”

Ministry inspectors first show up only several days later in most cases of deaths at building sites. The ministry said this was because police were supposed to arrive first, and were also responsible for handling the investigation. The safety administration has neither the need nor the workers to visit every site immediately, it argued.