Only half of construction worker deaths investigated — report
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Only half of construction worker deaths investigated — report

With Israel’s rate of worker deaths among highest in West, lack of coordination between government breeds negligence

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Israeli medics and emergency units work at a construction site where an underground car park collapsed on September 5, 2016 in the Ramat Hahayal neighborhood of Tel Aviv (AFP Photo/Gil Cohen-Magen)
Israeli medics and emergency units work at a construction site where an underground car park collapsed on September 5, 2016 in the Ramat Hahayal neighborhood of Tel Aviv (AFP Photo/Gil Cohen-Magen)

Authorities are failing to investigate deaths of workers at construction sites, while bad practices across various government bodies allow negligence to thrive, an unreleased Knesset study has reportedly found.

Only half of all deaths at construction sites between 2011 and 2015 were investigated, according to research carried out by the Knesset Research and Information Center, and in over 50 percent of those cases probes were closed due to inconclusive evidence, Israel Radio reported Wednesday.

According to the report, the low rate of investigations stems from a lack of coordination between the three responsible authorities: the Safety Administration, the State Prosecution and the police. In a number of cases included in the report, some of the bodies were only informed of an accident six months after it took place.

The findings come a month after six construction workers were killed when a four-story parking garage being built in the northern Tel Aviv neighborhood of Ramat Hahayal collapsed on itself.

Soldiers in the IDF Home Front Command fill bags with rubble during the rescue effort at a collapsed parking garage in Tel Aviv's Ramat Hahayal neighborhood on September 6, 2016. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
Soldiers in the IDF Home Front Command fill bags with rubble during the rescue effort at a collapsed parking garage in Tel Aviv’s Ramat Hahayal neighborhood on September 6, 2016. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

Following the fatal accident, lawmakers renewed calls to improve safety standards on construction sites and set up a parliamentary inquiry into construction workers’ deaths.

The rate of worker deaths in Israel is among the highest in the West and double the European Union average, according to the findings of an Economy Ministry and National Insurance Institute report published in May.

Knesset Labor and Welfare Committee Chairman MK Eli Alaluf (Kulanu), who has spearheaded an effort to impose fines and prison sentences on building contractors with poor safety records, said the September collapse could have been prevented.

“Unfortunately this tragedy that we are seeing again and have warned against has replayed itself in front of our eyes,” he said.

Chairman of the Knesset Labor, Welfare, and Health Committee, MK Eli Alaluf (Kulanu) in the Knesset, August 16, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Chairman of the Knesset Labor, Welfare, and Health Committee, MK Eli Alaluf (Kulanu) in the Knesset, August 16, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

While accidents on building sites are common in Israel, most of those employed in construction in the country are Palestinian or foreign workers and the issue is rarely at the center of the public consciousness.

In 2015, 34 laborers died while working on construction sites. The majority, 21 of the 34, fell to their deaths.

According to a Haaretz report in April, 15 people died in construction site accidents in the first quarter of 2016. The Economy Ministry found that in half the cases, there were no sanctions imposed on contractors following the deaths, according to the report.

Construction safety bill

In August, the Knesset passed a bill that aims to tackle the issue of work accidents on construction sites by enforcing an automatic closure at any site where a worker dies or is seriously injured, as well as imposing fines or imprisonment on owners who don’t correct safety issues.

MK Ayman Odeh of the Joint Arab list visits a man wounded in a Tel Aviv building collapse, at the Ichilov Hospital on Monday, September 5, 2016 (Joint List)
MK Ayman Odeh of the Joint Arab list visits a man wounded in a Tel Aviv building collapse, at the Ichilov Hospital on Monday, September 5, 2016 (Joint List)

The bill calls for two-day closure of any construction site where there is a death or serious injury. In addition, labor inspectors will be authorized to close the site for a further three days if safety standards are inadequate.

Inspectors will also be authorized to order the correction of safety issues. Site owners who don’t comply could face two years in prison or a NIS 75,000 ($20,000) fine. The law also stipulates that during any closure, construction workers will continue to be paid.

In July, the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee approved the bill for a second and third reading in the plenum, where it was voted into law in August.

Committee chair Alaluf said during the July meeting, “Every day there are accidents. There is a systemic breakdown. Our aim is not to close a site, but to correct it.”

The law had its opponents among construction companies, which balk at the potential closures.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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