Workplace Deaths Rose 35% in 2018 as Slots for Inspectors Went Unfilled

The Labor Ministry focused safety inspection on construction sites, yet deaths increased there as well

A Kiryat Ata factory where a worker died in an accident in late 2018.
United Hatzalah rescue service

Seventy people were killed in work accidents last year, a 35 percent increase from 2017, as 38 people died in branches other than construction, the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry said.

In those industries – agriculture, industry, services and commerce – 22 people were killed in 2017.

Last year 10 inspectors were sent from those other branches to the construction industry, yet construction deaths still rose to 38 from 32 in 2017.

The ministry did not hire new inspectors in any branch of employment, even though there are 20 unfilled slots and the Finance Ministry approved a significant improvement in salary conditions.

In 2017, 30 construction workers were killed, compared with 32 in 2018. But this does not include accidental deaths in the West Bank, which would bring the numbers to 36 and 38, respectively. There has also been a 29 percent increase in the five-year average for work accidents – 59 dead a year.

“It’s shocking to learn that there was a horrifying increase of 75 percent killed in work accidents in industry, services and commerce, which received no public and media attention like the construction industry that has been at the center of our struggle,” said Hadas Tagari, head of the Coalition to Prevent Construction Accidents.

She blamed the Labor Ministry for failing to supervise worker safety over the past year, during which the ministry recruited no new safety inspectors.

The Labor Ministry’s Safety Administration is responsible for supervision and enforcement of labor laws to prevent work accidents and harm to workers. It is responsible for about 65,000 workplaces, including 50,000 factories, 2,500 farms and 12,500 construction sites.

Due to public pressure, the labor and justice ministries, together with the Histadrut labor federation, advanced legislation and safety regulations for the construction industry, but not for other sectors.

According to a Labor Ministry document, which responded to an appeal by the group Kav La’oved Worker’s Hotline, as of August 2018 the Safety Administration had 69 slots for inspectors and investigators in all industries.

The Labor and Social Services Ministry said: “This is the overall number of incidents in all branches of the economy connected to the ministry's authority that ended in death, as well as incidents where workers were run over at the workplace, and citizens killed by objects thrown from construction sites."

Tagari added: “We can assume that the increase in deaths in the other branches of employment also stems from investing manpower in construction, which in light of the failure to recruit new inspectors comes at the expense of supervising worker safety in other industries, with fatal results.

“The ministry’s disappointing goals for the coming year are also infuriating – a decline of only 10 percent in the number killed in work accidents – despite the expectation of filling 60 new slots meant to enable a far greater decline in the number of workers killed.”