Amid Rising Death Toll for Builders in Israel, Knesset to Crack Down on Construction Accidents

Proposed legislation will force shutdown of building sites where serious safety incident occurred.

A construction site in Tel Aviv.
Nir Keidar

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday gave its backing to a bill that would allow a building site to be closed for five days in the event of an accident in which a worker is killed or seriously injured.

The bill aims to tighten enforcement and assure that a building site does not resume operations until the problems that caused the accident are corrected. Under the bill, an inspector who finds that a contractor is continuing to build without correcting the deficiencies can bring those findings to the police and the contractor could be prosecuted. The sentence suggested by the bill is two years’ imprisonment or a high fine.

The bill is an initiative by both coalition and opposition MKs, among them Labor, Welfare and Health Committee chairman Eli Alalouf (Kulanu), Eyal Ben-Reuven (Zionist Union) and Abd al-Hakim Hajj Yahya (Joint List). The bill also has the support of professionals in the Economy and Industry Ministry. The bill is expected to have a preliminary reading on Wednesday. If it passes, it will go to the Labor, Welfare and Health Committee for further review.

The Economy Ministry issued a directive in February ordering any building site that has a serious accident to be closed until the safety violations are correction. Since that directive was issued, however, only three sites were closed, even though there have been 11 fatal accidents and 76 in which a worker suffered moderate to severe injuries. Even that, however, is an improvement – before that the ministry had never closed a building site that suffered a serious accident, at best it would issue “safety orders” relating to small parts of the site. At present, there are no sanctions of any kind in place for contractors who do not fix the safety violations found at their sites.

It should be noted that the bill does not force an inspector to close a site or impose fines on a contractor who doesn’t correct safety violations, but it gives him the authority to do so.

The Coalition Against Construction Accidents does not support the bill as written, calling for it to be amended to obligate Economy Ministry inspectors to close building sites where serious accidents occur. Hadas Tagari, who heads the coalition, said, “I’m sure that behind this bill there are lots of good intentions, but the fact is there is no good news here and it may even do harm. The bill does not establish that the site must be closed; if that were the case it would indeed be new and very valuable.” She added that the law should call for an automatic closure of an accident site for at least two days, “to assure a proper investigation.”

The bill also calls for police to inform the Economy Ministry’s chief labor inspector of every instance in which a work accident causes someone’s death. While there are regulations calling for this, they are not observed. The bill’s explanatory notes say the bill “would improve the reporting mechanism and the exchange of information between the relevant agencies making up the state’s chain of dealing with work accidents.”

The bill is one of several relating to construction accidents and safety deficiencies that are expected to be submitted in the coming months. Another bill Alalouf is promoting calls for a building contractor’s license to be suspended if there is a serious accident on his site. Currently the registrar of contractors can remove a contractor from its roster only if he is convicted of a crime.

“The contractors must be punished,” Alalouf told the ministers Sunday. “They have to be hit with financial losses in order to change their behavior. We have to immediately and fundamentally alter the situation in the construction field to prevent accidents.”