“It is not possible to demonstrate negligence by any of the suspects.” That was the argument used in most of the cases the prosecution has closed against people involved in work accidents at Electra Construction building sites, even though these accidents caused the death of 10 construction workers from 2015-18. The ritual is repeated: accident, investigation, closure of the site for a few days and then a return to work. The families of eight of the people who were killed won’t get justice, while two others are still waiting for a decision on their cases (Bar Peleg, Haaretz Wednesday).
If the industry’s workers came from strong, well-connected social groups – above all, Jewish ones – instead of mostly being Arabs, Palestinians and migrant workers, their cases would presumably be handled more quickly and efficiently. The fact is that even though various measures have been taken to improve the conduct of criminal investigations since these cases were opened, with the police even setting up a dedicated unit for this issue, there has been almost no improvement in the situation.
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According to data released by the Justice Ministry in response to a freedom of information request submitted by the advocacy organization Coalition against Construction Accidents and the Movement for Freedom of Information, in 2020 nine indictments were filed for causing the deaths of construction workers in work accidents, compared to four in 2018. Even though this is a significant increase in percentage terms, it’s still a tiny fraction of all of the industry’s fatal accidents, most of which are caused by employers’ negligence in protecting their workers’ safety. On average, 40 workers are killed in Israel’s construction industry every year. So far this year, 34 workers have died.
Improving the criminal proceedings will also require changes in legislation to expand responsibility for safety at construction sites to additional people, including senior executives. Currently, even in the few cases in which indictments are filed, the defendant is almost always the site foreman, and most of the legal responsibility for safety falls on him.
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A draft of progressive regulations that would implement this change has been ready for more than a year. The economy minister must sign it promptly and submit it for approval to the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee. In addition, the situation requires an immediate mobilization by the prosecution and cooperation between prosecutors and police in everything having to do with investigating these accidents, and above all with prioritizing them. Only thus will deterrence be achieved against this reckless disregard of workers’ safety, so that people will not continue to fall to their deaths.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel