Gov't lacks legislation to prevent ‘Sick Building Syndrome'

20 of 63 employees in a three-story building in Upper Nazareth have become very sick in recent years, some suffering from cancer.

Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station 311 (photo credit: Michael Melech)
Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station 311
(photo credit: Michael Melech)
After hearing about a number of cases in which government workers have become seriously ill due to their building environments, the Knesset Environment and Health Committee held a hearing on Tuesday about “Sick Building Syndrome” (SBS) and the lack of legislation regarding this subject in Israel.
Shiri Bass-Spector from the Research and Information of the Center spoke about the growing phenomenon of workers experiencing symptoms in their places of employment and how the feelings often disappear after work hours, according to a statement from the committee.
These symptoms include headaches, eye irritation and sore throats, and are usually caused by air quality problems stemming from isolation from outside air and the presence of chemicals in dyes, glue, furniture and carpets, the statement said.
While efforts are typically made to improve indoor air quality by increasing circulation and using air-blending systems, chemical pollutants and microbes still often are able to enter the air through places like air-conditioning filters, the committee explained.
Yet despite these problems, no legislation on Sick Building Syndrome exists in Israel, according to the committee.
The Clean Air Act of 2008 as well as the Nuisance Abatement Amendment of 2011 regulate air pollution, and the Labor Committee recently passed regulations concerning permissible substance concentrations at industrial sites, but no laws deal with the office building environments, the committee statement said.
Similarly, an occupational physician and worker supervisor from the Industry, Trade, and Labor Ministry pointed out that while she has 50 inspectors for industrial buildings under her jurisdiction, she has none that handle office buildings, according to the report.
During the hearing, various governmental employees affected by sick buildings spoke to the committee members.
Danny Karaklis, the branch head and plans inspector for the Interior Ministry’s northern district, described a critical situation for himself and his own employees in Upper Nazareth, where 20 of 63 employees in a three-story building have become very sick in recent years, some suffering from cancer, according to the statement. Meanwhile Hadar Castro, a worker at Employment Services in Jerusalem, discussed the “shocking state” of her office located above the Central Bus Station, where there is no system that separates the air of the office and that of the bus station, the report said.
“Among the employees, there are cancer patients and according to the workers, the patients are constantly subjected to a fear of their surroundings,” the statement said. “For the workers, there is no occupational physician whom thy can contact.”
In response to Castro’s description, Committee chairman MK Dov Henin (Hadash) said he will turn to the Finance Ministry’s housing administration – or even to the finance minister himself – to address the severity of the situation, according to the committee.
“I feel that we have just touched the tip of the iceberg,” Henin said at the conclusion of the meeting, stressing that the government must exercise its authorities to improve work conditions.
If not, he added, the committee will consider proposing tougher legislation in the future.