Israel Ministry Bill Includes 30-day Suspension for Builders After Fatal Accidents

Construction and Housing Ministry sponsoring an amendment that would automatically suspend license of contractor after fatal accident ■ aim is to improve compliance with safety regulations by hitting contractors in their wallets

Construction workers in Jerusalem, August 20,2018.
Emil Salman

As part of a campaign against accidents on building sites, the Construction and Housing Ministry is sponsoring an amendment that would automatically suspend, for up to 30 days, the license and all sites operated by a contractor after a fatal workplace accident involving an employee.

The ministry’s Contractors Registrar has never revoked a contractor’s license for safety violations or negligence as the result of an accident.

The proposed amendment to the law governing the registration of building contractors, a copy of which was obtained by Haaretz, significantly tightens penalties for safety lapses.

Its goal is to improve compliance with safety regulations at construction sites, by hitting offending contractors in their wallets.

The suspension of licenses would be carried out on the basis of information received by the safety administration of the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry.

After a fatal accident, the site will be closed for 30 days (at most) unless the safety administration decides that the contractor can manage a site in a manner that does not endanger employees and the public.

Currently, regulations relating to “unacceptable and untrustworthy conduct” allow the Registrar of Contractors to take disciplinary action against contractors who violate safety rules in a way that puts their workers at risk. This includes suspending licenses.

The registrar can also revoke a license after a contractor is convicted of a criminal offense such as causing negligent death. So far, the registrar has claimed that there are legal impediments to suspending the license of a contractor who was not fined or sentenced to a few months in jail. Up to now no contractor has ever been sent to prison following the death of a worker, so that no work accident has met the criteria set up by the registrar.

Following a public outcry and criticism by the media, an agreement was signed recently between the Histadrut labor federation and government ministries, aimed at amending the law so that the registrar can take action following a recommendation by the safety administration.

The proposed amendment is stricter also in that it allows the suspension of a license if there are dangerous conditions at a worksite, without there being an accident. Until now the registrar could remove someone from the list of approved contactrors only after bankruptcy or the dissolution of a company, or after a criminal conviction which undermined a contractor’s trustworthiness. Life-endangering safety violations will now be added to this list.

In March, registrar Ilan Eliyahu sent notice to all contractors, advising them that he would take action against anyone not following safety regulations at their construction sites. This could include revoking their licenses. Eliyahu began, together with the ministry of labor, to look into companies that violated such regulations. This had not been done for a decade, even though 300 workers had died over that period.

Gadeer Nicola, a lawyer for Kav La’Oved, Worker’s Hotline for the Protection of Worker’s Rights, welcomed the initiative, saying its was the first time the Construction Ministry was seriously addressing the lapses of negligent contractors.

“Years have passed without the registrar taking any action against contractors who through their neglect caused the death or injury of workers on their sites,” she said. Nicola said the amendment provides for appropriate deterrence and norms for builders, and called on the Knesset to quickly approve it.