Police Unit Ignores Two-thirds of Construction Accident Cases

This year, construction mishaps have claimed the lives of 30 workers and two passersby however only one third of all accidents were examined

A construction site in Jerusalem, May 2018.
Emil Salman

The police unit for investigating construction accidents will only examine accidents that end in death or serious injuries, the state wrote in a response to a High Court petition on the unit that will be established next year.

This means the police will not be investigating the two-thirds of accidents that end in moderate or lesser injuries. So far this year, construction mishaps have claimed the lives of 30 workers and two passersby, while 130 workers have suffered serious or moderate injuries.

The High Court petition was filed in May by the groups Kav La’Oved and Ma’an against the police and the labor, public security and finance ministries. According to attorney Gadeer Nicola, who filed the petition, government ministries are acting slowly and negligently in investigating accidents and supervising building sites where accidents have occurred.

Kav La’Oved and Ma’an demand that the new unit be set up immediately. They also want criminal probes into accidents causing moderate injuries, and for 30 inspectors and 15 investigators to be added to the Labor Ministry’s occupation and safety administration. Finally, they want clear criteria for allocating and funding the inspectors and investigators.

According to the state’s response, work accidents that don’t end in deaths or serious injuries are to be handled by the investigation unit of the occupation and safety administration.

But it emerges from the response that this unit only has two investigators, who are also inspectors. Moreover, the state said, these two only investigate old cases, not new accidents. The safety administration has nine slots for investigators, but only five are filled and three of those people were reassigned recently to issue fines to contractors.

In addition to the lack of investigators, from the state’s response it emerges that there are only 18 Labor Ministry building inspectors, not 30 as the labor minister has declared. The ministry has 27 positions for inspectors, of which 21 are filled, though three are busy issuing fines. Each of those 18 inspectors is responsible for 700 building sites.

According to a document attached to the state’s response, Katz has asked the Finance Ministry to fund 54 new positions for people to issue fines, but had to assign some of the few inspectors he has to this task after the ministry didn’t respond. Katz also wrote a letter in February 2017 to the civil service commissioner and treasury officials saying he needed 360 inspectors to meet EU inspection standards.

According to Nicola, the police’s paltry efforts thus far have produced few indictments amid “the conveying of a serious message that no one will be held accountable or pay a price for the deaths or injuries of construction workers.”

Last month, the Israeli group for preventing work accidents called on the Histadrut to declare a labor dispute in the construction industry and take action, including a strike.