Israeli Crane Operator Fired for Refusing to Risk Her Life

Since the start of 2016, at least 10 workers had been threatened with dismissal if they did not agree to do risky work in bad weather.

Workers protesting labor conditions on a crane at a Ra'anana construction site on March 2, 2015.
Tomer Appelbaum

A crane operator in Ashkelon was fired on Sunday for refusing to continue working in strong winds that she said put her at risk.

Katy Karkolov, 27, of Ashkelon, who worked for the Machluf Behor and Sons construction company, told Haaretz that the crane started to sway in the powerful gusts of wind.

According to the safety regulations of the Economy Ministry’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, tower cranes may not be operated when there are winds liable to undermine the crane’s stability put the employees on it or near it at risk. Only last month, Varda Edwards, head of the administration, issued a clarification to building contractors about working in bad weather. Among her orders: “One should refrain as much as possible from performing work at heights; one may not operate a tower crane or put together or dismantle a tower crane under strong wind conditions.”

Nevertheless, the Forum for Prevention of Work Accidents reports that since the start of 2016 at least 10 workers had been threatened with dismissal if they did not agree to do risky work in bad weather.

“The safety of crane workers is unsupervised and their rights are not protected when they complain of safety violations,” said Reuven Ben Shimon, the forum’s founder and a safety officer at a large construction company. “The construction industry is not properly supervised and there’s almost no enforcement. The workers, who are often employed through manpower companies, are afraid to identify themselves so they don’t always report things.”

Over the past decade, 303 construction workers have died on the job; 35 in 2015 and six since January 1. The most recent death occurred on swhen a Chinese laborer was killed at a building site in Ashdod.

Sixty percent of the construction workers who died on the job were killed by falling from roofs, scaffolding or other high places. Other deaths were caused by the collapse of a wall or other part of the building, by mechanical equipment, by electrocution or because the worker was hit by an object.

Said Karkolov: “I was afraid the crane would overturn and that would be the end of me. Another crane operator and I climbed down and our work supervisor came over and asked why we weren’t on the crane. We explained to him that it was life-threatening. He mocked us and said it wasn’t dangerous and that we should get back up there, because if we didn’t there was no reason for us to come back to work tomorrow.

“We went back up; three times I went up and then came down, because I was afraid to lose my job but also afraid to die,” Karkolov continued. “I’m a single mother of two small children and I need the money. The supervisor said that there was cement coming and I had to go up and I had no choice. The last time, when it started to rain besides the winds, I came down and refused to go up again. On the way home I got a phone call telling me I was fired.”

Machluf Behor, a large construction company in business for 30 years, has built dozens of tall buildings and luxury neighborhoods, mainly in Ashkelon and elsewhere in the south. It is currently planning to erect two residential buildings in Rishon Letzion.

“I don’t want her to work for me. She was employed through a labor contractor and got down from the crane without the permission of her work supervisor. She is not connected to me, there’s a manpower company and I asked that she be replaced,” Haim Behor, the work supervisor, told Haaretz.