Editorial

Israel Must Combat Contempt for Construction Workers' Lives

Safety must become one of the conditions when competing for government land bids, and fines should simultaneously be imposed on companies that fail to ensure their workers' safety

Construction workers at a building site in Tel Aviv, October 23, 2016.
Ofer Vaknin

Another construction worker was killed at a building site in Israel on Wednesday, this time a Turkish citizen. The data boggle both the heart and mind, and they are never just dry statistics – 15 workers have been killed and 30 severely injured since the start of the year – against the backdrop of the ongoing inaction of government ministries. Don’t be impressed by the politicians’ promises: The actual policy shows that responsibility for workers’ safety is at the bottom of their list of priorities.

In Wednesday’s accident, the man was crushed to death when a concrete slab fell on him. The site, operated by Omer Construction and Engineering, has been the scene of two other serious accidents over the past six months. And over the past three months, the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry has cited the company for safety violations at three of its other sites.

Such a series of accidents cannot be tolerated. The responsibility is not only that of the Labor Ministry’s safety administration, which is trying to do its job under disgraceful conditions. The number of inspectors, their low pay and work conditions make it nearly impossible for them to conduct real oversight. These facts are not new. They are well known to the government ministries, which consider the speed or cost of construction far more important than workers’ safety.

The decision to impose fines for safety violations is a step in the right direction, but at the same time there must be more inspectors in the Labor Ministry. The Finance Ministry has a special responsibility in this regard: Without a budget for such positions, the level of inspection – already low – could decline yet further. Adding more tasks without further resources will not advance the war against construction site accidents.

But other bodies must become part of the struggle – for example, the registrar of contractors in the Construction and Housing Ministry, to whose office accidents are reported; the police departments that investigate them; and the prosecution that files indictments. The fact that the public, social affairs organizations and the media are monitoring the issue has not yet yielded the desired change. Because hearts remain hard, the time has come to turn to the pocket: Safety must become one of the conditions when competing for government land bids, and fines should simultaneously be imposed on companies that fail to ensure their workers’ safety. Such contempt for human life is completely unacceptable.

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