‘Help us! Our lives are in danger’ Union leader pleads with MKS

Weinstein criticized the authorities for insufficiently supervising construction sites and not protecting workers from their dangers.

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September 8, 2016 16:14
Israel building collapse

Scene of building collapse in Tel Aviv's Ramat Hachayal neighborhood. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)

 
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The next construction site tragedy is only a matter of time, Crane Operator Union member Roi Weinstein told the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee on Thursday, in an urgent meeting called after the parking garage collapse three days earlier that killed at least three in Ramat Hachayal.

“Help us. Our lives are in danger.

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This isn’t a joke,” he pleaded.

“I can promise that there will be many more accidents this year, and one of them will surely happen to a friend of mine,” Weinstein said.

“A crane operator’s foreman could be a Chinese person who knows eight words in Hebrew, giving him instructions from the ground... We are invisible workers.”

Weinstein criticized the authorities for insufficient supervision of construction sites and for not protecting workers from the inherent dangers. There are only five people responsible for inspecting the work of 1,200-1,500 cranes in Israel, he explained.

“Who is protecting me? The Economy Ministry? The police? Has someone ever checked the weather conditions in which I work? How windy it is? I’m worried about winter. Can you give an order that will protect me from being fired [for not wanting to work in extreme wind]?” he asked the lawmakers.



In Europe, Weinstein said, crane operators are not allowed to work if conditions are unsafe, but in Israel, the strategy is “do it quick before someone notices.” He said that he is left to his own devices, expected to begin his day even if no foreman is there to give instructions, and often works 15-hour days.

At the meeting’s opening, Labor, Welfare and Health Committee chairman Eli Alalouf (Kulanu) recounted that the committee held many meetings on safety in construction sites, releasing reports and recommendations on the matter and passing related laws.

In the meantime, IDF Home Front Command search and rescue workers continued into the fourth day of their search for the three men that remain trapped in the building collapse – two residents of Acre and Muhammad Dawabsha, 29, from Duma, southeast of Nablus. The men killed in the collapse have been identified as Oleg Yakibob, 60, from Tel Aviv, Denis Dyanchenko, 28, a Ukrainian national, and Ahad Alhaj, 34, from Beit Rima, northwest of Ramallah.

“We warned of massive negligence at construction sites and a lack of preparation and coordination by government offices,” Alalouf said. “We saw how these disasters were not being prevented, even though many of them were avoidable. The desire to cut costs and finish construction quickly causes carelessness and tragedies.”

Alalouf said workers are afraid they will be fired if they complain about the conditions at construction sites.

Plus, he lamented, the Civil Service Administration is unable to explain why 22 open positions for safety inspectors at the Labor Ministry have not been filled.

Labor and Social Services Ministry director-general Eliezer Jablon said that, within two months, the ministry will submit a bill to increase the punishments for violating construction site safety rules, and it is considering using drones to supervise sites.

“This incident was the final straw,” he said.

Building Contractors Registrar Amnon Cohen said his office has been asking the Economy Ministry for a report on workplace accidents in construction sites for four years, and has yet to receive a response.

His office plans to add 10 more supervisors to weed out contractors working without a license.

Ronen Ginsburg, director-general of Danya Cebus, the company contracted to build the parking lot that collapsed in Tel Aviv, told the Knesset committee there was an engineering failure, and it was not a matter of an unsafe construction site. He vowed that Danya Cebus will cooperate with the authorities in any way possible.

“Danya Cebus’s top priority is safety. We have 12 safety supervisors, more than any other company,” he insisted. “Every site has a certified foreman and we are especially careful about safety.”

In response to a question from MK Revital Swid (Zionist Union) as to what Danya Cebus is doing to avoid accidents, Ginsburg said work was stopped on all sites the morning after Monday’s collapse and safety instructions were reissued.

As for a parking lot that collapsed in Holon, Ginsburg said that the company did not report the matter because there was no legal requirement to do so, but it also did not hide it.

“Take a break [from construction] for a few days,” Alalouf suggested.

“Two of your parking lots collapsed.

You don’t feel like you need a break for some thorough examinations?” Joint List MK Abdel-Hakim Haj Yahya, who is a building engineer by profession, said it was clear that the parking lot being built in northeastern Tel Aviv’s Ramat Hachayal neighborhood could not handle the weight put on it.

MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint List), who initiated the meeting, implied that racism is at play and criticized Ginsburg’s “arrogance.”

“The people who died were invisible, peripheral. They’re Arabs, foreign workers... people whom no one pays attention to when they’re alive. There have been 230 victims in five years. Imagine if they were from northern Tel Aviv. Would the public not pay attention then? The work is Arab, the carelessness is Jewish,” he said.

MK Eyal Ben-Reuven (Zionist Union) expressed concern that in a month everyone will forget about this week’s tragedy. He called for prompt action.

“I don’t want to hear about money and the cost of housing anymore. Human life comes first...

It’s crazy to say this will be discussed in a few months. People are getting killed,” he said.

The Labor, Health and Welfare Committee plans to hold a follow- up meeting on September 29, by which point Alalouf hopes the gag order on the police investigation of the collapse will be lifted.

Police have declined to comment on reports that one person was arrested in connection with the collapse.

Eliyahu Kamisher contributed to this report.

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