Accusations of negligence arose Sunday, a day after two Ashdod refinery workers died after being exposed to a lethal dose of highly toxic gas. A family member of one of the workers alleged that the victims were told to enter a contaminated area without adequate protection, and firefighters complained that they were not allowed access to the facility for “a long time” after responding to an emergency call for help.
The victims, Michael Bilakhov, 35, and Moshe Tal, 38, had worked the Friday night shift at the Paz refinery and had gone missing after investigating a malfunction at around 5 a.m. They were found later Saturday morning lying on the ground. Initial investigations indicate the employees inhaled poisonous gas after trying to fix a leak.
According to Bilakhov’s family, the workers weren’t wearing oxygen masks as they should have been. “It is insolence, they [the refinery management] don’t care about their employees and don’t provide enough training,” one family member told Channel 10 on Sunday.
Another family member alleged that when she asked a company manager why the men entered a dangerous area without masks, he said, “I also enter without a mask.”
Yigal Zohar, head of the Ashkelon firefighters who arrived at the scene, said the victims may have been unprotected when they were exposed to the hazardous material for a minute or two.
The Paz Israel refinery’s spokesperson said safety regulations were precisely followed.
According to Ashdod Firefighting Services, a hazardous materials team that arrived at the scene was initially denied entry to the plant — despite being the best equipped to deal with the situation — and only gained access to the building after the Ashdod police chief intervened, threatening to make arrests.
Magen David Adom paramedics, who were allowed to enter the facility, tried to resuscitate the victims for 30 minutes, but pronounced them dead on the spot.
The refinery’s spokesperson said it allowed only the MDA teams to enter because it wanted to make sure the hazardous material was not a threat. The refinery claimed it was cooperating with inspections by the police and the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor.