The registrar of contractors revoked 2,729 contractor licenses between 2010 and 2018, but not one of them was due to violations of safety regulations. The registrar has never used the authority he has to revoke the license of a contractor on whose construction site accidents occurred or safety violations were documented.
This record comes to light in new figures transferred by the Ministry of Housing to the Hatzlacha non-profit group, which works for good governance. It requested the figures under the freedom of information law. Since 2010, 298 construction workers have been killed, as well as two passersby. Since the beginning of this year there have been 20 fatalities in the construction industry, a 25 percent increase over the same period last year.
There are regulations pertaining to “an undermining of trustworthiness and unconventional conduct,” which allow the registrar to take disciplinary action against building companies that violate safety rules and endanger their workers. This includes revoking of licenses. Licenses can be revoked when contractors are convicted of criminal charges, including causing death through negligence.
“The numbers show a consistent trend of passivity with regard to enforcement in the areas of registration and licensing of transgressing contractors,” says attorney Elad Man from Hatzlacha. “A direct link between safety incidents and the ability of contractors to continue working would be very effective in combating this terrible phenomenon.”
The numbers show that between 150 and 450 licenses are rescinded every year, for various reasons. Revoking a license is one of the most significant deterrents the registrar has at his disposal. The Knesset’s State Control Committee headed by MK Shelly Yacimovich was expected to debate deaths in this industry on Monday, as well as the conduct of the registrar. The registrar, Ilan Eliyahu, who assumed his post last year, is due to attend the session.
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Hadas Tagri, who heads a group waging a campaign against such accidents, has written Construction and Housing Minister Yoav Galant, saying, “You could promote steps to address this failing, especially by taking deterrent actions against companies that are negligent in abiding by safety regulations. However, regrettably, the ministry has consistently been shirking its obligations. This behavior, along with the registrar’s conduct, is negating any centralized deterrent mechanism which could induce construction companies to act with resolution to avoid safety violations. This inaction undoubtedly contributes to the continued lawlessness at construction sites.”
Tagri’s letter states that over the last two and a half years the Construction and Housing Ministry has been acting deviously. The public is presented with contradictory facts regarding the avoidance of revoking licenses. The ministry said that “the registrar has no authority to take disciplinary action against construction companies which violate safety regulations unless there are criminal convictions.” Tagri says that in some cases, other reasons are given for the registrar’s inaction.
Tagri stresses that relying on criminal convictions as a pretext for action is wrong, deceptive and impractical. The number of contractors convicted for construction site deaths is miniscule, as reported by Haaretz. This is why State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit aim to establish a dedicated police unit to investigate these accidents. Between 2010 and 2016, 148 files related to workplace accidents were transferred by the police to state prosecutors, resulting in only 27 indictments against 46 people, only seven of whom were contractors. The state shelved suspicions against 360 people during this period, 52 percent of them for lack of evidence.
The Labor Ministry issues safety regulations routinely but the registrar ignores them, as well as repeated fatal accidents, as a reason for taking disciplinary action. For example, since 2015 there have been six fatalities at Denya Cebus construction sites, four at Electra Construction sites, three each at Solel Boneh and El-Har Construction and Engineering sites, but no sanctions against them were taken by the registrar.
The Ministry of Construction and Housing responded to this story by stating, “Responsibility and authority over safety issues at constructions sites lies with the institute of occupational safety and health at the Labor Ministry. That ministry is responsible for all issues of safety.”
The ministry noted that the registrar can only act after criminal convictions, not after a single violation of safety rules. “The two ministries have decided that the registrar will consider taking disciplinary action after receiving a request from the safety institute. This would happen when it believes a contractor consistently operates in ways that endanger lives,” it said.