Yavne construction site shut after 4 killed in crane collapse

Yavne construction site shut after 4 killed in crane collapse

Police launch major probe into accident; construction sites to stop work for half a day Thursday to hold seminars on safety

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)

A construction site in the central Israeli town of Yavne was shut down for 30 days starting Monday, a day after a crane collapse claimed the lives of four workers.

The accident, which saw part of the crane break apart during an attempt to disassemble it, brought the death toll in construction site accidents in 2019 up to 20.

Four people were placed under house arrest Sunday as police launched an investigation into the collapse.

Three of the fatalities were named by authorities Monday as Gil Hazazi, 51, Ben Dakla, 22, and Yonatan Sabag, 33, who was reportedly the manager of the crane-operating company. The name of the fourth victim has not yet been released for publication.

Two other people were injured.

A total of 17 people were detained over the incident, 11 of whom were questioned as possible criminal suspects. The group included officials involved with the building site and with the firm operating the crane.

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

Police ordered four of those detained to be put under house arrest for five days, and released the other 13 without restrictions.

A special police unit called Peles, established in late 2018 and specializing in investigating deadly workplace accidents, is leading the probe, together with the Labor and Welfare Ministry’s workplace safety unit.

The incident brought renewed attention to the issue of worker safety, with politicians, activists and others issuing urgent calls for reforms in the industry and better safety standards and enforcement.

Thirty-eight people were killed on construction sites in 2018, leading to a government commitment last year to increase safety standards.

On Monday afternoon, the Histadrut labor federation convened an urgent meeting chaired by the federation’s head, Arnon Bar-David, to discuss steps to combat workplace deaths. Attendees included representatives of trade associations and labor unions linked to the construction industry.

The group announced four new measures: the founding of a joint workplace safety headquarters to be financed by labor unions and the construction industry that would focus on education and accident prevention at work sites; a half-day work stoppage on Thursday that would be spent holding seminars at construction sites around the country on safety regulations; an emergency conference for companies and unions in early June; and a change to the content of all professional conferences in the industry for the duration of 2019 to ensure they focused on workplace safety.

While most of those killed and maimed on the job in recent years have been foreign workers, the four killed Sunday in Yavne were all Israeli.

All four were apparently on the crane when a counterjib with concrete ballast blocks collapsed, taking three of them down with it, according to eyewitness speaking to the Walla news site. The three were declared dead at the scene.

The fourth victim was left dangling for about an hour before rescuers managed to reach him and bring him down, at which point medical personnel declared him dead.

Two other workers were lightly injured. Another was initially declared missing, but rescue services later located him and said he was unhurt.

A month ago, a truck driver, Itzhik Cohen, 31, was killed at the same construction site, and on Thursday, two construction workers were killed in separate incidents in the cities of Petah Tikva and Bnei Brak.

Welfare Minister Haim Katz speaks during a Finance Committee meeting in the Knesset on March 5, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Responding to Sunday’s incident, Labor and Welfare Minister Haim Katz appeared to deflect criticism and shift blame to the workers.

“I do not think the accidents are due to contractors’ negligence,” he said. “Some workers do not secure themselves despite the heights [they are working at].”

Last year, a general strike was averted at the last moment after the Histadrut reached a deal with the government to improve safety conditions for construction workers. The focus of the planned strike had been the lack of safety regulations at building sites, following the deaths of several dozen workers.

The new measures adopted last year included making the European standard for scaffolding obligatory, heightened regulations surrounding crane operation, and increasing the number of inspectors.

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