Israel Approves Law to Shut Down Dangerous Construction Sites

Closure order to last two to five days, expires only after site passes safety inspection.

A bird's eye view of a construction site in Tel Aviv.
Nir Keidar

A building site where a work accident has resulted in serious injury or death will be shut down immediately according to an amendment passed on Tuesday by the Knesset.

The amendment to the law on supervision of labor states that the site will remain closed for two to five days, and will reopen only after a safety inspector has determined that all hazards have been repaired.

The amendment was co-sponsored by the chairman of the Knesset Labor and Welfare Committee, MK Eli Alaluf (Kulanu), MK Eyal Ben-Reuven (Zionist Union) and MK Abd al-Hakim Hajj Yahya (Joint List). Its purpose is to tighten the monitoring of contractors at sites where serious accidents have occurred, and to ratchet up penalties in such cases.

According to the new law, Economy Ministry investigators will now be required to determine within 48 hours of an accident whether hazards have been fixed. They will have to conduct their inspection before the closure order expires, which will mean the site cannot reopen until the hazards have been repaired.

Until now, safety inspectors have not been required to check whether hazards had been repaired before the closure order expired, which meant work could proceed at the site as usual without anyone checking whether conditions were safe.

Another clause in the amendment, initiated by the Coalition for the Prevention of Building Site Accidents, states that inspectors can order work halted at an entire building site where an accident or serious injury has occurred, not just at the specific place of the incident.

Inspectors will also be empowered to issue an order prohibiting work until repairs are made, without citing a time frame. The inspector will be able to authorize work to repair the hazard during this time or cancel the closure order if it is determined that the safety hazards have been fixed.

The law states that police must report serious accidents at building sites to the Economy Ministry as soon as possible. As the bill advanced, police said they were opposed to their being required to immediately report accidents, and as a result the law requires them only to report the most serious accidents to the ministry.

The Coalition for the Prevention of Accidents at Building Sites said that while the amendment was important, “at the same time it is a small step among many that are required to bring about basic change in the poor safety situation at building sites, to increase monitoring of sites and to impose sanctions on those who break safety regulations – before we see a significant improvement in safety at the sites” and a decline in accidents.

The coalition noted that the new law applied only to the most severe accidents, insisting that the requirement for immediate inspection needed to be expanded to include “accidents in which workers were ‘only’ moderately or lightly injured (a matter of luck).” The coalition also wanted to see the law expanded to sites where there were severe safety hazards but by chance had been no serious injuries.

“It is hoped that the infuriating, sad scenes of building sites that do not stop working for a minute, even when the body of one of the workers is lying there, will not persist,” said the NGO.