New Police Unit to Probe Spate of Deaths at Israeli Construction Sites

After lengthy delays, advocates welcome move to protect rights of workers 'who have been neglected for years and abandoned in death without anyone held responsible'

File photo: Police inspectors visit a construction site in Bat Yam as part of an investigation into a worker's death, October 2018.
Tomer Appelbaum

After two and a half years of delays, the Israel Police and the defense, interior and welfare ministries announced on Monday they were establishing a national police unit to investigate a spate of deadly construction site accidents.

The unit has been named “Peles,” a Hebrew acronym for “workers at no risk,” and will operate as part of police unit Lahav 433’s economic crime-fighting squad.

The Kav LaOved workers’ advocacy group said “despite the lengthy delays which have prevented the unit’s establishment for more than two years, we warned about a serious vacuum in this area and we have even petitioned the high court.”

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“We welcome the decision to set up the unit and to start seeing the sites where accidents occur as crime scenes,” Kav LaOved said.

Reuven Ben-Shimon, chairman of the work accident prevention forum said: “This is an important civil victory for the wake of safety and construction workers who have been neglected for years and abandoned in their deaths without anyone being held responsible.”

Nobody in Israel has done any prison time for the death of a construction worker and the average fine for causing the death of a construction worker through negligence is 7,000 shekels ($1,873). Many construction workers in Israel are Palestinians or foreign laborers.

The unit named on Monday will combine the administrative authorities of the ministries involved to “deal with putting together a comprehensive look at handling work accidents, investigating serious work accidents and exposing related criminal violations,” a statement said.

Police said the unit would handle only construction accidents that result in death of serious injury as Haaretz wrote in September. But two thirds of accidents which result in moderate injuries will not be investigated as crimes.

On Sunday, the Knesset Labor and Social Affairs Committee rejected a regulation requirement 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 claims.

Contractors aid that most accidents in construction sites are not due to the scaffolding, but by the labor conditions in Israel, which does not stress safety.