Only One Building Inspector per 700 Sites in Israel, Knesset Report Says

Half of the sites never get checked, according to Knesset findings, and half the deaths at sites are caused by falls.

A Tel Aviv building site.
Ofer Vaknin

A Knesset report obtained by Haaretz reveals that the rate of construction-related accidents has risen from 50 percent to 60 percent of all work accidents in Israel since 2010.

Yet there is only one inspector per 700 sites (17 being responsible for some 12,000 sites), according to the report, and only 52 percent of all building sites are ever inspected. A total of 184 people died in construction-related accidents between 2010 and 2015, leading to 100 criminal investigations, but only 11 led to indictments.

Meanwhile, injuries during this period have been underreported, according to the report, commissioned by MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) and presented at a special Knesset session Wednesday.

The Economy Ministry’s Safety and Health Administration admits in the report that the dearth of inspectors makes it hard for it to carry out its duties, and it has had no increase in personnel relative to the growth in workplaces under its authority. The administration has also had difficulty filling available positions because of the low salaries it offers relative to the complexity and demands of the job, as well as retaining staff. The lack of inspectors endangers not only construction workers but also passersby because, for example, they cannot ensure that all cranes are safe from falling in heavy winds, as happened during a recent winter storm.

While 32 percent of all construction sites were not inspected in 2012, 52 percent of the current 13,225 sites were not inspected over the past year, the report noted.

“The scope of construction industry injuries indicates disgraceful negligence both by the Economy Ministry and the police, who are supposed to faithfully enforce safety regulations, deploying inspectors to construction sites and reducing worker injuries to a minimum,” said Gilon.

Referring to migrant workers, who accounted for 51 percent of construction-related deaths between 2010 and 2014, Gilon said, “The shocking news about construction workers, who are among the weakest in the labor market both because of their ethnicity and their status, should trigger dozens of warning lights, but it seems their blood is cheap.”

Some 53 percent of construction workers died from falls. While 37,500 people injured in construction-related accidents collected state benefits in November, 94 percent of them were Israeli residents while only 5 percent were migrants and 1 percent from the Palestinian Authority.

Police figures indicate that 11 indictments of negligent manslaughter were filed between 2010 and 2015, while 87 investigations were opened for causing injuries through negligence at building sites during that period.

“The inferior level of safety of Israeli construction workers reflects the state’s serious failings, resulting in catastrophic accidents at a rate several times higher than what is acceptable in the West,” commented the Coalition for Fighting Construction Accidents in a position paper prepared for Wednesday’s Knesset session.