Nearly 30,000 Construction Workers Hurt in Recent Years in Israel

Real number likely much higher, as figure includes only incidents that were reported and recognized as workplace accidents.

Injured evacuated from the wreckage in Tel Aviv.
Moti Milrod

In the past five years, 30,000 construction workers were injured in accidents on building sites, and the number has been rising from year to year.

That figure only includes workers whose injuries were recognized by the National Insurance Institute as the result of workplace accidents. It’s unclear how many additional injuries went unreported or were not recognized by the NII.

Monday’s collapse of a Tel Aviv parking garage under construction, in which at least four workers were killed and 23 injured, was considered one of the worst construction accidents in Israel in recent years. But new figures obtained by Haaretz show that a similar number of workers are injured every day at building sites around the country.

Between 2011 and 2015, a total of 29,000 construction workers suffered workplace injuries resulting in workers’ compensation payments from the NII. That’s nearly 6,000 a year, or about 16 per day. Excluded from this group were around 5,000 building-trades workers who were injured during this period in traffic accidents, either on the worksite or while traveling to or from work.

Wasim Khatib, 26, of Deir Hanna, was working on a construction site near Kiryat Shmona two years ago when an object weighing about 80 kilograms fell on his hand. He lost a finger, but returned to work a few months later.

“It’s clear that this field is very dangerous,” said Khatib, who has worked in construction for nine years. “When I go to work, I don’t know what might happen. A chunk of concrete could fall from a height, objects can. Nearly every day of every week, I see someone injured. This isn’t supposed to be routine, but it is routine,” Khatib said.

The figures also show that the number of injuries rose by about 10 percent from 2011 to 2014, from 5,500 to 6,000, with each year’s figure higher than the last. For 2015, complete data isn’t yet available, since an injured person has 12 months from the date of the injury to file a compensation claim with the NII.

Occasionally, claims are filed after the 12-month deadline. These don’t entitle the claimant to financial compensation, but NII recognition of his work injury can still help him obtain other benefits, such as a disability allowance.

Hadas Tagari, the director of the Coalition against Construction Accidents, said the true number of building-site injuries is almost certainly much higher than the NII’s figure, “because it’s clear there’s underreporting here, especially by Palestinian and migrant workers who either don’t report their injuries or aren’t recognized.” The NII concurred with this assessment.

Even the existing figures are “scandalous and hard to grasp, and I don’t know how it would look if we knew the true number of injured workers,” Tagari added. “Every day there’s a ‘terror attack’ at building sites in Israel.”

Kav La’Oved, a workers’ rights organization, said the share of recognized work injuries among Palestinian and migrant workers is much lower than their relative weight in the construction industry’s workforce, a gap that presumably stems from the difficulty these workers have in obtaining their rights from the NII. In 2015, for instance, West Bank Palestinians and migrant workers accounted for only eight percent of workers who received compensation for work injuries from the NII. But according to data from the Economy Ministry, they account for 51 percent of all construction workers.

An injured worker is entitled to compensation for up to 91 days after the accident. If the injury results in a permanent disability, the worker can also obtain a disability allowance.

Altogether, the economy loses some 330,000 work days every year due to injured construction workers. In addition, the cost of compensation payments to these workers is estimated at 300 million shekels ($80 million) over the last five years. In 2015, construction workers accounted for 11 percent of all those recognized by the NII as having suffered work injuries.