Six Years Late, Israel to Establish National Work Accidents Prevention Authority

Economy Minister Amir Peretz says he’ll have a bill ready in two to three months, but the Knesset is expected to dissolve itself this month

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Emergency services at the scene of a fatal construction site accident in Yavne, May 2019.
Emergency services at the scene of a fatal construction site accident in Yavne, May 2019.Credit: Ilan Assayag

Economy Minister Amir Peretz announced over the weekend that he would move ahead on a bill to establish of national work accidents prevention authority, six years after a public committee first recommended it.

Between 54 and 61 people are killed every year on average in work accidents in Israel. In 2014, the committee noted the numerous bodies dealing with these accidents and the lack of coordination among them, and concluded: “There is no policy in the realm of work safety and no priorities have been set. Each body promotes its own concepts and acts according to its own narrow interests.” Then-State Comptroller Joseph Shapira criticized the delay in establishing the authority in his reports in 2016 and 2018, calling it “inconceivable, serious and unreasonable.”

The committee recommended building the authority by unifying the Occupational Safety and Health Administration – the body responsible for imposing safety orders, supervising building sites and investigating accidents – together with the Israel Institute for Occupational Safety and Hygiene, which deals mainly with education and training.

In recent weeks, lawmaker Ofer Cassif of the Joint List has been advancing a bill to establish a national authority based on the conclusions of the committee six years ago. On Thursday, Peretz pledged for the first time to establish an interministerial committee to write a government-sponsored bill in 60 to 90 days – although the Knesset might be dissolving itself in about two weeks.

Cassif’s bill states that its goal is to “make it possible to deal with occupational health and safety challenges in Israel, and to prevent the continuing [loss] of human lives, especially in the construction industry and in other areas.” Cassif added that the lack of legislation is costing the state “the huge sum of about 10 billion shekels [about $3 billion] a year.” Current legislation, Cassif wrote, is “outmoded and cumbersome. The numerous archaic laws and the bodies sharing the work are not properly organized and create problems in regulating occupational safety.”

On Friday, Peretz told Haaretz: “On these issues there is no opposition and collation. The main goal is to prevent work accidents, which costs the Israeli economy hundreds of millions, and the painful addition of injured and handicapped and most significantly, workers are paying with their lives.”

Cassif added: “Construction accidents are not force majeure, but rather criminal negligence and lack of guidance and enforcement. Years after the Adam Committee recommended establishing a unified body for occupational safety, the matter has not moved ahead by even a millimeter. This is the first and the important step in truly resolving the tragedy of workplace accidents.”

The nonprofit Group for the Fight Against Workplace and Industrial Accidents welcomed Cassif’s proposal. Its head, Hadas Tagari, said: “The current split between two bodies robs essential resources and impairs the state’s struggle to supervise and promote workers’ safety. The situation has gotten worse since these groups’ responsibilities were split among various government ministries.”

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