For Construction Workers in Israel, 2016 Is the Deadliest Year in a Decade

Most accidents aren’t investigated as crimes, and executives are rarely indicted.

A building under construction in Rishon Letzion, October 27, 2016.
Ofer Vaknin

With two months to go, 2016 is already the deadliest year in a decade for building-site accidents in Israel. As of Sunday, 40 construction workers have died, compared to an average of 30 a year from 2006 to 2015.

One reason that construction workers continue to die on the job, despite increasing awareness of the problem, is that prosecutions disproportionately target lower-level employees and subcontractors rather than the heads of the construction companies.

In 90 percent of the cases involving construction accidents that resulted in prosecution since 2010, the main defendants were site supervisors and other junior employees, not company executives. This, according to figures that were recently released by the State Prosecutor’s Office. The remaining cases are still pending.

According to a new report by the Knesset Information and Research Center, in 64 percent of the cases the defendants were the site supervisors, followed by contractors (16 percent) crane operators (10 percent) and company owners or the companies themselves (10 percent).

The report will be presented on Monday at a session of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee dedicated to the issue of work accidents in the construction industry.

Only 30 out of some 150 criminal investigations into construction-site accidents since 2010, involving 331 suspects, have resulted in indictments. The suspected offenses included negligent homicide or negligence resulting in bodily harm. About 80 percent of the cases were closed due to lack of evidence; only 10 percent of the cases were closed due to lack of guilt.

The State Prosecutor’s Office openly admits that many problems exist in the handling of the cases and the legal proceedings in such cases. “The main difficulties in investigating such cases comes from a lack of resources, a lack of appropriate training of those involved from the Economy Ministry and the police, and failures in the work interfaces between the bodies that handle [the cases],” said the State Prosecutor’s Office.

So not only are many of the accidents not investigated — according to the police 222 criminal investigations were opened for construction site accidents over the past five years, and 800 noncriminal investigations — and most of these cases do not turn into indictments. Even when indictments are filed they do not concern the centers of power in the industry capable of changing the culture of safety on construction sites.

This is largely a result of the legislation on workplace safety in the construction industry, which does not give the companies an incentive to act on the issue, intervene and supervise the safety conditions at construction sites, states the report.