Construction Worker Deaths in Israel Didn't Rise in 2021, but Number of Indictments Fell

Israeli authorities say fatal construction accidents in 2021 fell by 8 percent from 2020, but the data doesn't provide a full picture

Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg
אתר בנייה בגדרה, באוקטובר. יש פער בין הנתונים הרשמיים של המדינה בנוגע למספר ההרוגים באתרי הבנייה לבין נתוני העמותות הפועלות בתחום
A construction site in the West Bank.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

Thirty-two people died in accidents at construction sites in Israel in 2021, the same number as the year before, but fewer indictments were filed for safety violations, according to the Economy and Industry Ministry’s Safety Administration.

In 2021, the Safety Administration issued seven indictments for safety violations, all of them at building sites. In the previous year, 12 indictments were filed, nine of them in the construction industry. For 2019 these numbers were 29 and 21. These numbers do not include criminal indictments for fatal accidents.

According to the agency’s annual report published Monday, 56 people died in work accidents in Israel in 2021 in total, compared to 58 in 2020. These figures represent a decline from 2019, when 84 people in Israel died in work accidents – 40 of them in the construction sector. The Safety Administration views the decline in fatalities as a success, and says the number of fatal accidents in construction in proportion to building starts in 2021 fell by 8 percent from 2020.

It should be noted, however, that because not all building sites report to the Safety Administration, the agency does not have full data on building starts.

In addition, there is a gap between the official government figures and those gathered by worker safety organizations. According to Safe Work Israel, 71 workers died in work accidents in Israel in 2021, including 37 at construction sites. The figures from Kav LaOved – the Worker’s Hotline for the Protection of Worker’s Rights are similar. According to Kav LaOved, 70 people died in work accidents in 2020, including 34 in construction, while in 2019 these figures were 86 and 46, respectively.

There are a number of reasons for the discrepancies in the figures of the Economy and Industry Ministry and those of the advocacy organizations. In some cases, the cause of death was classified as a medical reason – for example, in the case of a farmworker who died from heat shock while working. In other cases, the deaths occurred on the other side of the Green Line, and the Safety Administration did not have a clear determination as to the cause of death – as in the case of a work accident in Kafr Aqab in East Jerusalem. In other cases, the workers were not legally defined as employees, as in the case of independent renovation contractors or their workers.

Additionally, the Safety Administration categorized some of the construction accidents as having occurred in other industries: Marwan Kabha, for example, who was killed in January 2020 at an unreported site of renovations; or a 17-year-old boy who was electrocuted to death while doing renovations – his death was reported under the category of the goods and services sector.

Kav LaOved said Monday that “these reasons are not relevant when we come to count the number of workers who paid with their lives when all they did was to leave in the morning for work to support their families.”

According to a report issued by the Knesset Information and Research Center last month, the data collected by the Safety Administration does not provide a full picture of the number of fatal accidents. This is in part a result of the differences in data collection and underreporting, differences in definitions and a lack of uniformity in registering and categorizing the data, outdated information systems and a lack of uniformity in system interfaces, as well as limitations on the transfer of data between groups. One of the recommendations of the committee on fighting construction accidents was to establish a unified national database on the matter, but this has not yet been done and the reports are based on the data from the Safety Administration.

The Safety Administration said: “The number of people killed fell due to the aggressive oversight actions of the administration in the interface with the activities of the Registrar of Contractors, the Peles [police unit investigating work accidents], the accountant general’s office [in the Finance Ministry] and others. Senior investigators from the administration are assigned to the Peles unit and advance many investigations in the field of employee safety. In every investigation of a fatal accident, administration inspectors investigate alongside police investigators in preparing the indictments for the [State Prosecutor’s Office]. The matter of closing down [construction] sites and increasing the number of supervisory visits in every industry should not be forgotten either.”

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