Only 1 in 4 serious worksite accidents gets a criminal probe

Figures obtained by Kav LaOved advocacy group show rate of investigations dropping as number of deadly on-the-job accidents soars

The scene where a crane collapsed at a construction site in Yavneh, killing four people and injuring two, May 19, 2019. (Flash90)
The scene where a crane collapsed at a construction site in Yavneh, killing four people and injuring two, May 19, 2019. (Flash90)

Police have not opened criminal investigations in 75 percent of job site accidents from 2016 to 2018 that led to deaths or severe injuries for workers, according to figures released under freedom-of-information laws.

Police records show that of 850 worksite accidents during those years in which police were called in, only in 212 did officers open criminal probes.

The freedom-of-information request that made the figures public was filed by Kav LaOved, a foreign-worker advocacy group. The numbers were first reported Thursday in the Haaretz daily.

According to Kav LaOved, 124 workers died from 2016 to 2018 in 118 deadly accidents at worksites, while 585 accidents resulted in moderate or serious injuries. Nearly all were at construction sites.

The figures mark a slight decline in the rate of criminal investigations from past years, the group says. Between 2011 and 2015, 27.6% of such accidents led to criminal investigations, according to figures cited by Haaretz that were reported by police to the Knesset.

Rescue workers at the site of a collapsed building in the Ramat Hahayal neighborhood of Tel Aviv, September 6, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

While the rate of criminal probes did not rise, the absolute number did — to keep up with the dramatic spike in the number of serious and deadly accidents. The years 2011 to 2015 saw an average of 160 worksite accidents per year. In 2016-2018, the figure soared to 283 per year, a 77% jump.

The fact that only a quarter of serious workplace accidents are being investigated for criminal culpability means that “the Israel Police apparently believes that most workplace accidents are ‘fate,’ or the fault of the dead and injured,” charged Gadeer Nicola, head of Kav LaOved’s Nazareth branch.

Criminal investigations are vital to ensure employers and contractors invest in safety measures for their workers, the group says. The lack of investigations therefore constitutes “a stark failure by the Israel Police and the state prosecution to advance the safety of construction workers,” Nicola told Haaretz.

In response to the huge spike in worksite accidents, police established a special unit called Peles at the end of 2018, under the aegis of its serious crimes unit Lahav 433, that specializes in accident investigation. But, according to Haaretz, the unit has opened investigations into only three of the 38 deadly accidents that have occurred thus far in 2019.

Police have said the unit is not meant to investigate every accident, but only those “with unique attributes, like complex accidents involving infrastructure collapse, or the sort that require expertise and resources,” according to a police statement to Kav LaOved.

In a response to the report, the Israel Police said in a statement that it “investigates workplace accidents professionally and thoroughly, with the goal of determining the truth and ensuring suspects face justice, according to the evidence and circumstances” of each case.

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