No Contractors in Israel Have Lost Licences Despite High Rate of Building Deaths

Over the last year, 383 orders were issued to building sites concerning safety problems, but Economy Ministry has only 17 inspectors for some 12,000 construction sites, meaning more than 700 sites per inspector.

A construction worker step precariously on a roof while working on a new neighborhood in Tiberias, December 2015.
Gil Eliahu

Not a single contractor has been criminally convicted or lost his license on account of construction accidents in the past decade, even though 294 workers have lost their lives in such accidents.

Those statistics were unveiled by Amnon Cohen, the Housing Ministry’s registrar of contractors, at Tuesday's meeting of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee on the topic of construction accidents.

Cohen said that over the last year, 383 orders were issued to building sites concerning safety problems, but “the Economy Ministry’s few inspectors take two weeks to get to the site.” The Economy Ministry, which is in charge of such inspections, has only 17 inspectors for some 12,000 construction sites, meaning more than 700 sites per inspector.

From 2010 to 2015, 184 construction workers were killed on the job, but police opened only 100 investigations and indicted only 11 contractors for negligent homicide. In addition, they opened 87 investigations and filed seven indictments for causing injury through negligence.

In other words, only slight over half of these deaths even resulted in a police investigation; only 11 percent of those investigations ended in an indictment; and not one of those indictments produced a conviction. Since there were no convictions, there are also no contractors who have lost their licenses over such fatal accidents.

In January 2016 alone, another five construction workers were killed in building site accidents, while at least 19 were seriously injured. In 2015, 35 workers were killed in such accidents, up from 31 the previous year. Of those 35 fatalities, 18 were Israelis and 17 were either migrant workers or Palestinians, according to data released yesterday by the Economy Ministry.

Sixty percent of the construction workers who died on the job were killed by falling from roofs, scaffolding or other high places. Other deaths were caused by the collapse of a wall or other part of the building, by mechanical equipment, by electrification or because the worker was hit by some object. In a significant number of cases, the deaths resulted from a failure to observe safety regulations.

“According to our most cautious estimates, about 1,000 construction workers are seriously injured each year, and another 7,000 suffer lesser injuries,” said Hadas Tagari, who heads the coalition for combating construction accidents. “Israeli citizens are financing allowances for victims of work accidents to the tune of four billion shekels ($1 billion) a year. Why doesn’t the Economy Ministry expose the names of contractors and building sites where accidents occurred? How is it possible that a building site can continue to operate normally after an accident, with no investigation or enforcement?”

Varda Edwards, head of the Economy Ministry’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration, noted that the number of active building sites has grown by about 20 percent since 2010, from 11,370 to 13,230, and the number of workers has grown accordingly. Nevertheless, she said, the growth in the number of construction deaths indicates a systemic problem.

The construction industry accounted for 63 percent of all workplace accidents in 2015, up from about 50 percent in previous years.