Safety first

We’re not even at the halfway point of 2019, and already there have been 20 people killed and 68 injured in building site accidents in Israel this year.

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May 22, 2019 07:52
3 minute read.
TRANSPORTATION MINISTER Israel Katz (right) and Ambassador Zhan Yongxin of China

TRANSPORTATION MINISTER Israel Katz (right) and Ambassador Zhan Yongxin of China take part in an event marking the beginning of underground construction work of the light rail, using a Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) in Tel Aviv, February 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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We’re not even at the halfway point of 2019, and already there have been 20 people killed and 68 injured in building site accidents in Israel this year.
 
What is the number that makes a difference? How many have to be killed until the powers that be address a matter whose bottom line is basic: life or death?
 
Sunday was the latest example of dereliction of duty. At a residential project construction site on Jabotinsky Boulevard in Yavne, the rear part of a crane came apart and fell to the ground. Four construction workers were killed.
 
But the accident could have been anything: electrocution from cables lying around unprotected; a worker falling from heights, being hit by falling objects or loose construction materials, or slipping on a wet floor.
 
Just last month, 31-year-old driver Itzik Cohen was killed at the same site, electrocuted when he came in contact with a crane that touched a high-tension wire. Was the site safe?
 
Three workers were killed instantly on Sunday and another succumbed to his injury, but it wasn’t just the lives of four human beings that were lost this week. The accident also destroyed four families, whose lives will never be the same.
 
There appears to be a culture of lawlessness in the construction business, resulting in contractors building luxury housing out of workers’ bodies. It has to stop.
 
It is still unknown whether the crane collapsed due to technological failure or human error, but in one sense it doesn’t matter: the building site wasn’t safe enough, and Sunday’s crane collapse was not a onetime occurrence. It was but another in a long series of such disasters – and the numbers are increasing.
 
What kind of a country has Israel become? In 2018, Israel ranked third among OECD countries in the number of construction site fatalities, more than double the average. Why? Israel has the greatest technology for changing the world – but not for human safety?
 
Responsibility for implementing measures to protect workers on construction sites lies everywhere: local authorities; the Labor Ministry, which houses the Contractor’s Registrar and the Safety Administration which is responsible for ensuring workers’ safety; project owners; and on-site managers.
 
Contractors have to take responsibility for what happens on a building site, and senior officers and managers in contracting companies must be held accountable. Action, including filing indictments, must be taken against contractors and company managers, and they should be prevented from participating in government projects.
 
Ultimately, responsibility lies with the Knesset. So wouldn’t it be a good idea if our country’s lawmakers, instead of clamoring for ministry portfolios and pursuing immunity laws, would take action to save people’s lives by passing stringent laws and enacting forceful compliance?
 
The solution is fairly simple: Increase personnel and advisers in governmental bodies to conduct efficient inspections, report on safety problems, issue safety orders, bring companies to hearings, and apply punitive actions. Also, give stronger authority to those in the field who need to implement the decisions.
 
Then, enforce safety rules and protect the weakest workers in Israeli society and send more inspectors to existing building sites. And stop all work on dangerous sites to prevent more deaths and injuries – and don’t allow them to reopen until they have proven that there is no risk to the workers.
 
Disseminate the knowledge and information learned while investigating accidents, distribute to all contractors the practical lessons learned from the inquiry, and institute professional training based on it.
 
There have been many attempts to clean up the system over the years, but despite promises that safety rules would be enforced, punishment would be made stricter, and the workers’ safety conditions would be improved, the promises have not been fulfilled – and workers are still being killed.
 
As The Jerusalem Post’s Cassandra Gomes-Hochberg noted, safety orders and sanctions have been reported to be ineffective, with an insignificant number of contractors having their licenses confiscated by the Contractor’s Registrar.
 
Is it too much to ask that every construction worker be allowed to leave for work in the morning knowing that he will return home safely at the end of the day?

Israel Katz, pictured above, will be speaking at the 2019 Jerusalem Post Conference in New York.

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