Safety measures at construction sites

How the Israel Builders Association is protecting workers.

A laborer works on an apartment building under construction in the Har Homa neighborhood of Jerusalem (photo credit: REUTERS)
A laborer works on an apartment building under construction in the Har Homa neighborhood of Jerusalem
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In May of last year, the Safety Committee of the Israel Builders Association had a meeting with MK Eyal Ben-Reuven, a key member of the Knesset’s subcommittee for the prevention of accidents in the construction sector.
For the past several months, Ben-Reuven has immersed himself in all aspects of safety measures at construction sites. He has met with a wide range of experts on the subject, toured many construction sites and took part in a presentation the Builders Association hosted to show what it is doing to prevent accidents at the work site by improving safety conditions.
This is an opportunity to thank Ben-Reuven for his involvement in promoting safety measures in the construction industry and especially to present our point of view in parliamentary discussions on the subject.
The Builders Association is well aware of the need to improve safety measures, and we have set up a committee on accident prevention. The committee, which is headed by me, includes members such as Natan Hilu, head of the association’s Technical Department; Hamutal Ben- Yaakov; and Yitzhak Gurevitch, director of the Personnel Division. The committee is formulating a series of guidelines that will decrease the number of accidents at a building site.
Compared to other Western countries, the number of accidents in Israel is relatively low. And it has remained so despite the fact that during the past decade, the volume of construction work and the number of workers has doubled. These figures are not being reflected in the Knesset debates on the subject, but Ben- Reuven has informed us that the Ministry of Construction and Housing is well aware of these figures.
We at the Builders Association are still working to reduce accidents in the workplace. The policy of Labor Minister Haim Katz, whose ministry is generally responsible for preventing accidents in the workplace, is completely flawed. It is based on fining construction companies where accidents have occurred. However, despite the heavy fines of many millions of shekels imposed on these companies, the number of accidents at construction sites has not decreased. Moreover, the decision to impose fines is on a work-related basis that has no connection to safety issues. Thus, for example, it is possible to request that a fine be revoked if the company nominates a qualified accountant in charge of salaries. Does anyone really think that hiring such a person will prevent accidents? We have made it clear to the relevant authorities that fines will only be effective if they are imposed on safety issues alone. Currently, the safety inspectors of the Labor Ministry are ignoring key safety provisions. For example, according to Section 212, the government regulation states that fines can only be imposed if the construction worker responsible for the accident involved is taken into consideration. Under Section 204, a worker who receives safety equipment and refuses to use it will be fined. Most Labor Ministry safety inspectors ignore these clauses.
On our part, we formulated a legal basis for the whole issue of enforcing safety conditions at a construction site. Fines can only be imposed according to well-defined safety rules and should include fines up to a ceiling of NIS 3,000 per worker who has caused an accident. In this regard, we must ensure that the accident prevention enforcement system will be flexible and allow the reduction of penalties (fines) if real improvements in the work site have been implemented in accordance with the recommendations of the safety inspectors during a definite time frame. Such an incentive, we believe, will have a far more significant effect on accident reduction than the imposition of a straight fine.
I want to point out that both the Labor Ministry and the Housing Ministry have agreed to our recommendations that will allow Palestinian or foreign workers to be trained in safety procedures at the construction site area. We are currently at an advanced stage of formulating the details of this training program.
We also suggested that all public contracting orders contain a mandatory clause on safety requirements.
Recently there has been substantial progress in adapting European scaffolding standards. We plan to publish a request to all producers of scaffolding asking for price quotes on the production of scaffolding according to European standards.
The writer is the vice president of the Israel Builders Association.