Editorial

Israel’s Pathetic Toll of 86 Dead in Work Accidents

The site of a deadly construction accident in Lachish, Israel, December 2019.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The report Wednesday by the group Kav LaOved reveals the cost in human lives exacted by negligent enforcement, lenient punishment of safety-standard violators and a lack of deterrence. The numbers paint a frightening picture regarding work fatalities in Israel.

The Labor Ministry hasn’t only failed on that score – not meeting its goal of a 10 percent reduction. It turns out that last year the rate actually jumped 23 percent. Eighty-six people were killed in 2019 in work accidents in various industries; the most deadly field was construction, with the main cause falls from heights.

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This week a worker was killed after being struck in the head by a pipe from a concrete pump at a Gazit Engineering construction site in Kiryat Gat. The company is well known to the Labor Ministry; last year the ministry issued a number of safety orders against the firm.

In December a safety order was imposed on Gazit Engineering at a construction site at Yad Binyamin in the south for “not installing protective measures against falls.” In October, an order was issued at a construction site in Nes Tziona over a raft of safety deficiencies, and in August and March there were two safety orders in Modi’in.

Did these orders deter the company from continuing down the same path? Obviously not, as seen in the death of the worker on Sunday. According to the Kav LaOved report, Gazit Engineering isn’t alone. Many contractors have been issued an abundance of safety orders.

This plague on the country has clear causes. Former Labor Minister Haim Katz’s project – imposing fines of tens of thousands of shekels on contractors – was secretly halted. The Standards Institution of Israel isn’t set up to approve the European standard for scaffolding. The contractor registrar hasn’t summoned a single contractor for a hearing in recent months and is even considering an initiative from the contractors to lower penalties. And many provisions from agreements between the government and the Histadrut labor federation aren’t implemented.

Despite these failures, it’s clear to the contractors that they won’t be sent to prison or have to pay fines for safety deficiencies; at most their construction sites will be closed for 48 hours. They also know that if there’s an accident, it probably won’t be investigated, and if it is, the investigation won’t bring the force of the law down on the perpetrators.

Also, since most of the injured or killed workers aren’t Jewish, there isn’t sufficient attention from the public – which is necessary if pressure is to be put on both the government and the contractors. Ultimately we’re left with a government that remains negligent in performing its duty to protect the lives of workers in Israel – and with contractors who continue to scrimp on safety expenses and increase their bottom lines, even at the price of human life.

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