On Work Safety Breaches, Israel Is Falling Ten Times Below Its Own Standards

Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg
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פועלים באתר בנייה במודיעין, ב-2019. "אמצעי האכיפה והפיקוח שנוקטות הרשויות לא מהווים אמצעי הרתעה מספק מול חברות קבלניות"
A worker on a construction site in Modi'in in 2019Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

Israel’s Labor Ministry filed only three indictments for work safety violations over the past half year, a report published by one of its units said on Friday, as rights groups rebuke systemic failures in enforcement and monitoring of workplace standards.

The Labor Ministry’s occupational safety directorate admits that this number is particularly low, stating that they aim for a tenfold increase to 30 indictments in the second half of the year. They intend to ask the minister responsible for these issues, apparently the economy and industry minister, to establish a unit charged with filing indictments at the safety directorate. There are 17 other cases in which the investigation is about to be completed, says the directorate.

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The reports comes as two people were killed in work-related accidents over the weekend. One 55-year-old construction worker fell while working on a construction site in Haifa. He was critically injured and was pronounced dead after being brought to a hospital. On Saturday, a 61-year-old farmer died after his tractor overturned in the Golan Heights.

According to a report published by Kav LaOved – Worker’s Hotline, a non-profit organization which tracks work-related accidents in construction and on farms, the directorate issued 2,764 safety-related or closure injunctions over the last 6 months, a 9 percent drop in comparison to 2020.

In the construction sector, the drop was greater, with a 15 percent decline in the number of injunctions issued. The directorate claims that these numbers do not reflect looser monitoring. “The number of injunctions issued reflects what was discovered on the ground. With some contractors, safety standards have improved,” Hezi Schwartzman, the head of the safety directorate, said.

Over the course of each inspection, he added, failings are detected and rectified, making the issuing of an order redundant. The safety directorate says that there were 6,053 visits to construction sites over the last 6 months.

According to the directorate, five companies received 10 safety-related injunctions or more (with Danya Cebus leading the pack with 12). Twenty companies received between six and nine such injunctions. According to the Worker’s Hotline, by the end of May this year, the contractors’ registrar held a hearing for seven construction companies. The license of six of these were conditionally suspended, while the license of one, Migdalei HaMerkaz Engineering and Construction, was suspended after it had received five safety-related injunctions.

“The enforcement and monitoring employed by the authorities are insufficient deterrents for the construction companies,” the Worker’s Hotline said. “Most companies that received safety injunctions are not transferred to the contractors’ registrar so that the issue is addressed. Moreover, even when the registrar issues a pending or actual suspension, companies are not deterred, continuing to compromise worker safety even after their license is made conditional on fixing the problem.”

This year’s report, for the first time since 2016, does not give the number of fatal accidents or their details. Another non-profit group that tries to combat work-related accidents documented that 28 people were killed in the first half of 2021 in such accidents. According to the Labor Ministry’s safety directorate, there were 23. The gap stems from the fact that some accidents are defined by the directorate as road accidents in or adjacent to construction sites, or from incomplete data coming from the National Insurance Institute.

“This grave omission of the details of fatal accidents is part of a consistent policy of the safety directorate in which they try to hide information from us and the public regarding work-related accidents and the way they function,” Hadas Tagari, the head of a group that monitors accidents in construction and industry, noted. “We call on the new minister of Labor and Social Services. Meir Cohen, to clarify to the safety directorate its obligation to operate with full disclosure and transparency for the benefit of workers in Israel.”

In addition to indictments filed by the Labor Ministry, mainly over safety breaches, the police also file charges in accidents in which people are injured or killed. The police established a designated unit for investigating labor accidents at the end of 2018.

However, data obtained by the Worker’s Hotline under the Freedom of Information Law shows that this unit investigated only 11 percent of all work-related accidents, 39 out of 311, that occurred since the unit was established. The others were investigated by the usual police units. The number of indictments filed by the unit was small, with one filed in 2018, six in 2019, none in 2020, and one by March 2021.

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