Pressured by Contractors, Knesset Committee Rejects Adopting European Scaffolding Standards

Contractors claim the regulation would lead to an increase in housing prices

FILE Photo: Construction workers on scaffolding in Jerusalem.
Emil Salman

The Knesset Labor and Social Affairs Committee rejected a regulation requirement on Sunday for building contractors to use scaffolding that meets European standards. Committee chairman MK Eli Alalouf (Kulanu) said he decided to reject the proposal after contractors at the meeting said the standard would raise housing prices. However, Alalouf said the regulations would be approved by Tuesday after further examination of the contractors’ claims.

According to scaffolding contractors and the contractors’ association, implementing the regulations will cost more than one billion shekels ($265,605,000). This contradicts calculations by the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry, which estimates that it would only cost 20 million shekels ($5,312,100) to bring all the scaffolding in the country up to European standards.

Contractors at the meeting said that most accidents in construction sites are not caused by the standard of the scaffolding, but by the labor conditions in Israel, which does not stress safety. “The scaffolding contractors are not against the regulations, but they were written without consultation with people in the field,” a representative of the scaffolding contractors, said. “Every day we fight with foremen who take apart the tie-downs in our scaffolding. The appointment of a safety assistant, which was approved here recently, would do a huge job in this area, because the damage that is done to our scaffolding at construction sites is unbelievable," the representative said.

"The foreman is very busy and doesn’t even get around to seeing to safety. You’re pulling out the rug from under hundreds of families who are in possession of equipment worth millions of shekels, while what is there can be taken, made suitable and safety elements added that already exist today,” he added.

The contractors’ association’s legal adviser, Kobi Flekser said: “The labor minister hasn’t taken into account at all the fact that the regulations he wants to implement will raise prices by what the manufacturers themselves estimate is some 15,000 shekels per housing unit.”

Alalouf said approval of the regulations would be put off until Tuesday to allow the arguments against them to be studied and to make changes if needed. Further discussions will take place on Monday and Tuesday. “Nobody wants to see more people hurt or killed because of safety problems. But we will do everything possible not to financially hurt the scaffolding manufacturers and contractors,” he said.

MK Eyal Ben-Reuven (Zionist Union) said: “This is about human life, no less. It’s clear that we are under time pressure right now. When I ask myself whether to choose a human being or money – there’s no debate.”

Scaffolding regulations were last updated 30 years ago and are based on the European regulations, but they only apply to the equipment and its sellers, not to contractors who use them at construction sites. Most of the scaffolding in Israel is over 20 years old, and has been built negligently in terms of the structure.

According to an official report by the Labor Ministry published in Haaretz in November, eight deaths a year could have been avoided if proper scaffolding would had been used. From 2017 to 2018, this would have ammounted to avoiding about 30 percent of the fatal construction site accidents. The number of injuries caused by poor scaffolding currently stands at 1,680 people per year.

The leader of a group fighting against construction site accidents, Hadas Tagari, said: “Regulations requiring implementation of a new scaffolding standard have been necessary for a long time now. They will not solve all the safety problems at construction sites but it will significantly improve safety and many projects where vertical scaffolding is used.”