Ministry Still Hasn’t Issued Safety Requirements for Crane Operators Despite Numerous Deaths

Under current protocol, workers are required to take a standard course on climbing masts but it does not teach them how to assemble or dismantle cranes

The construction site in Yavne where for workers died, May 19, 2019.
Ilan Assayag

Workers who assemble cranes are not required to undergo any kind of specialized training, despite warnings by professionals and the courts.

Employees who put the cranes together are required to undergo a standard course on climbing masts that last only a few days, and while it addresses working at heights, it doesn’t teach them how to erect or dismantle a crane.

>> Read more: Why Israel isn't doing more to prevent construction workers' deaths | Analysis 

Moreover, the Labor Ministry hasn’t defined the level of expertise needed to work on cranes and hasn’t issued any safety requirements for erecting or dismantling them. The ministry said in response that it is in the midst of formulating regulations regarding assembling cranes.

Four laborers were killed Sunday when the stabilizing weights of a crane at a building site in Yavne collapsed as they were breaking it down. Three of the workers were either hit by the falling weights or fell from the crane, while the fourth died after getting trapped on the crane dozens of meters in the air. Two others who were working on the crane were lightly injured.

Haaretz has learned that in 2015, the National Union of Turret Crane Operators approached government ministries and warned that the lack of training could have serious consequences, but the regulations were not changed. In addition, in a March 2018 ruling, Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court Judge Shaul Avinor sharply criticized the Labor Ministry for the lack of legislation in this sphere.

Avinor was ruling in a work accident case in which crane operator Alexander Moizaichikov was killed when he fell from a height of 50 meters. The judge asked that his ruling be sent to the Labor Ministry’s legal adviser and to the head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and demanded that they set up regulations, training and inspection for the assembly of cranes. Moizaichikov’s family was represented by attorney Israel Assal, the legal adviser of the Forum for Preventing Workplace Accidents.

“The lives of crane operators are, simply put, dependent on the professional erecting of the crane,“ Avinor wrote. “The proper and precise building of a crane is critical not just to the safety of the operator but the safe onsite operation of the crane and to prevent its collapse, with all the serious dangers that involves to the other workers at the site and to passersby. … The serious dangers posed by the incorrect construction of such cranes, including their collapse, God forbid, are obvious.”

Among the witnesses at that trial was safety adviser and supervisor David Katz, who said, “In the State of Israel there is no diploma that certifies those who dismantle cranes. Not to erect them, not to take them down … there is no legally required certification. That’s the situation, unfortunately.” The owner of Adar Cranes Ltd., Daniel Sabbag, who also testified, added that anyone can take some tools and put together a crane. “You don’t need any training or certification, unfortunately,” he said.

Amir Sapir, an expert and trainer in working at heights, told Haaretz that the course currently taken by crane operators isn’t relevant to the job. “There’s absolutely no connection between a course to climb masts and the operation or dismantling of a crane; it’s not taught at all,” he said. “A situation in which there’s no training is illogical and very dangerous.”

Dan Warshavsky, chairman of the turret crane operators union, said, “This accident once again stresses the urgent need to establish regulations and specific training for those who erect turret cranes. The current legislative situation creates a breach under which anyone with a toolbox can put up a crane.” He added, “The Labor Ministry never related to [Avinor’s] ruling and didn’t do anything to change the situation. That’s why it’s no surprise that another very serious accident happened.”

The Labor and Social Affairs Ministry said in a statement, “Defining the expertise necessary for those who erect and dismantle cranes is part of the ministry’s work plan, as part of a general reorganization in the realm of safety on Israeli building sites. We are currently working on the final drafts of updated building regulations that define an additional layer of responsibility, such that creating a safe environment will obligate all those involved, first and foremost the developer, and this will be a solution to the issue of dismantling and erecting cranes.”

The ministry added that “Legal constraints determine the pace at which the reforms we seek can be implemented.”