Editorial

Israel's Labor Ministry Must Act on Rising Death Toll at Construction Sites

After three workers were killed in a single week, minister fails to admit to the failure off his own ineffective policy

File photo: A construction site where an 18-year-old worker was killed, Tiberias, Israel, November 23, 2017.
Gil Eliahu

Three workers were killed this week in two separate construction-site accidents in the town of Harish. An additional three workers were killed on the job in Netivot, Tel Aviv and Tzur Yigal. That’s six people dead in less than two weeks. None of these victims were Jewish – which is the main reason for Israel’s ongoing neglect of this lethal scourge.

Since the start of the year, 19 people have lost their lives in work accidents, 10 of them construction workers. Despite a rise in public awareness since 2015 about the neglect of safety at building sites (thanks to civil groups and media support), 70 people were killed in work accidents in 2018 – a 35 percent increase over the previous year, according to Labor Ministry statistics.

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The most recent fatality in Harish, Ruslan Sirtan from Moldova, fell from a substantial height. Construction sites run by the same company he worked for have had five accidents in the past, and have been cited for safety failures 17 times for permitting dangerous work from great heights, life-threatening flaws in electrical safety and bad scaffolding.

On Sunday, Damon Jol Tatur and Amin Nasser Basul from the village of Reine fell to their deaths from a height of seven stories at a Harish construction site. The same day Fahed Youssef Gneimat was killed by a forklift at a factory in Netivot. Last Friday Ibrahim Nissim Abdo fell to his death while installing air conditioners at a Tel Aviv office building. Last week Majed Abdallah Salim suffered a fatal fall during renovation work at a building in Tzur Yigal.

In light of the ever growing list of fatalities, Labor Minister Haim Katz said this week, “The only ones to blame for the continued carnage at construction sites are the contractors.” It’s easier for Katz to blame the contractors than to admit to the failure off his own policy, which is focused on monetary fines that have no impact in the field.

His responsibility for the situation and for rectifying it requires drastic steps. A new policy is called for to permit the shutting down of construction sites for extended periods following any serious or repetitive safety violations. This is exactly what is not happening today: Sites are reopening only a few days after being slapped with citations for safety violations, and the citations are voided once the flaws are repaired. Contractors find there’s no reason to worry about these citations, even for the most systematic of dangers.

The Labor Ministry needs to increase the number of safety monitors at construction sites. There are currently only about 20 of them. It must also void the licenses of contractors who do not enforce strict rules about workers’ safety, and to change the mode of operation of the police’s “Peles” unit, which was established at the end of 2018 to investigate work accidents, but has not yet investigated a single one. Finally, it must advance legislation to expand the criminal liability of senior contractors and entrepreneurs and extend the responsibility of local councils for safety violations committed in their jurisdiction.

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