Big Words, Small Punishments

A bulldozer at a work site in Modi'in, 2018.
Gil Cohen Magen

Two more construction workers were killed on Thursday – the 44th and 45th construction-related fatalities since the beginning of the year. One worker, aged 29, was killed in Be’er Yaakov when a large metal plate used for pouring concrete struck his head. The second, in his thirties, was trapped under a concrete wall that collapsed at a construction site in Bnei Dekalim.

Police officers said that the incident in Be’er Yaakov appears to have been the result of a safety malfunction, and that several senior managers of the Rothstein company, including the site foreman, would be questioned. The important question is what will happen if these suspicions are borne out: Will the senior managers be put on trial and, if so, what will their punishment be and will it be enough of a deterrent to reduce the incidence of safety failures on construction sites.

In fact, it may not be necessary to wait until the investigation of this incident is completed, because on Wednesday a verdict was handed down to two construction site foremen in Bnei Brak, where 15-year-old Or Felician was killed six years ago in a work accident. Felician, who was washing windows, fell to his death from the ninth floor after leaning on a banister from which a glass plate had been removed.

Judge Eitan Kornhawser wrote a sharply worded verdict: “The severe incident…requires a clear-cut response in the criminal proceedings as well. This is a national calamity that demands that these proceedings culminate in a conviction…the crimes committed by the defendants are part of a widespread and brutal phenomenon on construction sites. The failure to strictly ensure safe working conditions often leads to disastrous results and loss of life.”

And lo, despite the piercing words, those defendants who failed to adhere to “the safety regulations,” a shortcoming that constituted “an inseparable and significant part of the horrendous result they were designed to prevent,” received a suspended sentence, 300 hours of community service and a 4,000-shekel-fine. The verdict was issued following a plea deal with the Tel Aviv Prosecutor’s Office.

So it turns out that every negligent foreman and every thrifty project owner understands that along with a war of words against negligence on construction sites, they can count on obtaining convenient plea bargains with light sentences even in fatal incidents. That’s the message, this is the recklessness that has been given legal backing – this is the reason people continue to fall to their death.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.