Israel Decides Not to Take Action Against Four Builders With Most Safety Violations

18 companies called to hearings over past year and a half, but ministry says it cannot take disciplinary action until final court verdicts issued in deaths on their sites

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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The construction site in Yavne where for workers died, May 19, 2019.
The construction site in Yavne where for workers died, May 19, 2019.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

The Contractors Registrar in the Construction and Housing Ministry summoned 18 companies to hearings due to safety deficiencies over the last year and a half, but decided not to take disciplinary action against the four large companies that had the most safety violations on their building sites between 2012 and 2016.

>> Why Israel isn't doing more to prevent construction workers' deaths | Analysis

The four are Omer Engineering, Electra, Danya Cebus and Best, on whose sites 21 workers were killed in 2016. The registrar’s office explained that it could not impose punishment over the deaths until final court verdicts were issued in these cases.

The registrar did, however, punish five of the 18 companies. For a decade the registrar has not used its authority to punish building contractors for safety flaws, so the summonses of 18 companies and the actions against the five companies constitute a significant change. Haaretz has learned that in 2018 and 2019, the registrar took action against five different, smaller contractors and even suspended the licenses of two of them, Parnas Parnas and Morshad Globus. However, he did not punish Denya Cebus, which had seven deaths on its construction sites and was cited 13 times for serious safety deficiencies from 2012 to 2016; since then there have been 12 more safety warnings.

Similarly, the registrar did not take any disciplinary steps against Electra, (10 deaths in three years, 17 safety deficiencies from 2012 to present); Omer Engineering, (two deaths and 18 deficiencies in those same years); and Best (two deaths, 15 deficiencies).

The registrar did not say why he decided to punish some firms but not others. Regarding the companies that weren’t punished despite their numerous violations, the registrar said that “the committee got the impression that the companies hadn’t violated safety rules” and that since then they “improved their safety program.”

The registrar started to use its authority following public and media pressure and a sharply-worded report by the state comptroller in May 2018 on the subject. Early last year, Ilan Eliahu was appointed registrar, replacing Amnon Cohen, and Eliahu began to seek punishments for contractors.

The registrar’s division has substantial clout with building contractors. Only companies with a license approved by the division can do construction work, and it is responsible for imposing penalties on contracting companies. In recent months, new procedures have been instituted under which the Labor Ministry’s Safety Administration is required to provide the registrar with detailed information about contractors who regularly endanger life so the registrar can summon them to a hearing and take disciplinary measures against them. The division told Haaretz that they had summoned all the companies the Safety Administration had informed them about.

However, the information provided by the registrar’s division shows that not all the data on safety deficiencies at contractors’ sites is transferred to it. An example is the Elrawabi company, five of whose sites were temporarily closed due to safety defects, the Labor Ministry said last week, and which was ordered three months ago to fix other safety deficiencies. The division said the Safety Administration “has not contacted us about Elrawabi [sites] in Beit Shemesh to this day; of course, as soon as it receives a request, it will be handled accordingly.”