Data shows construction sites in Israel are safer, but figures might be deceiving

  (photo credit: UNSPLASH)
(photo credit: UNSPLASH)

A report from the Economy and Industry Ministry’s Safety Administration reveals that worker fatalities in the construction industry have decreased significantly in 2021, but numbers might not tell the whole story. 

There’s no denying that construction is a high-risk industry compared to other sectors, despite advances in personal protective equipment, the use of tech innovations, and the training that workers receive. Those working in the construction sector often have to carry out their activities in hazardous settings and use dangerous machinery and tools, so the risk of fatal and nonfatal injuries and accidents remains quite high. 

But according to the Economy and Industry Ministry’s Safety Administration, construction sites in Israel have become a lot safer recently. Their latest report reveals that although the number of casualties registered in 2021 is the same as the preceding year when 32 people lost their lives at construction sites, the number of indictments filed for safety violations decreased. Only seven indictments for safety violations were issued by the Safety Administration in 2021 at building sites, compared to nine in the previous year and 21 in 2019. Indictments for fatal accidents were not included in the report. 

Looking at the total number of work-related deaths in Israel across all industries, the report shows that 56 deaths were registered in 2021, and 58 in 2020. This reveals a significant decrease from 2019 when 84 people lost their life due to workplace accidents, almost half of them in the construction industry. 

The data doesn’t accurately reflect the real situation  

The agency believes the results of the report show a positive trend in the construction industry, considering the number of casualties has dropped in the past few years. However, it might be a bit too soon to say if we have real reasons to rejoice or not. 

Despite the positive news provided by the Safety Administration, the report might not be as reliable as expected. There are many essential aspects that have been left out of the equation, so it’s difficult to obtain an accurate image of the situation based solely on the figures presented by the agency. 

For starters, one should not ignore the fact that not all building sites report to the Safety Administration. Therefore, the agency lacks important information on building starts which leaves many gaps in their report. 

It should also be mentioned that a lot of people don’t know what to do following a workplace accident. Very few seek the assistance of a construction accident lawyer to provide guidance and help them receive compensation for the damages and loss they’ve suffered. In many cases, victims or their relatives are not aware of their rights, so a considerable number of accidents in the construction industry go unreported. 

Apart from that, there’s a huge discrepancy between the figures provided by the agency and the data from worker safety organizations. Official reports show that only 56 people died in workplace accidents in 2021, while Safe Work Israel reveals there were 71 casualties – 32 of them in the construction sector. Another report from Kav LaOved – the Worker’s Hotline for the Protection of Worker’s Rights, paints a similar picture. Their figures reveal 70 workers lost their lives in fatal work accidents in 2020, 34 at building sites, a slight decrease from 2019 when 86 people died on work premises, out of which 46 were working in the construction industry.

There are several explanations for the differences between the data presented in the official report and figures from independent organizations. Sometimes, accident casualties are not included in government figures because a medical condition was considered to be the official cause of death. Other times, the Safety Administration doesn’t have access to information on the cause of death, if the event occurs beyond the Green Line. There’s also a whole demographic not being considered such as independent contractors and their workers who are not categorized as employees from a legal standpoint. 

Another issue affecting the accuracy of official reports is the way construction accidents and deaths are being categorized. For instance, the death of a worker carrying out renovation work was reported as having occurred in the goods and services sector. This is not a singular case, as many casualties are wrongfully reported, making it difficult for agencies and organizations to come up with accurate figures.     

Therefore, it’s no surprise that the data from Safety Administration doesn’t come close to reflecting the real situation in the construction industry. The issue stems from a lack of consensus on the methods and strategies employed to collect and categorize data, the inefficiency of the tools used in this respect, the underreporting of accidents happening at building sites, and the poor communication between authorities and independent organizations. All these aspects combined have led to the current situation, where reports and statistics on workers’ safety can’t actually be trusted. 

Solutions for more precise reporting  

Given the present challenges, solutions have to be found to improve reports’ accuracy and set the foundation for a safer and healthier work environment for employees in the construction industry and all other sectors.  

At the moment, all the official reports rely on data provided by the Safety Administration. The Knesset Information and Research Center suggested creating a national database where all the information regarding workers’ safety, including data on fatal accidents and injuries, would be centralized and properly interpreted, providing a clear picture of each industry’s state.   

Until such a plan will be put into practice, the Safety Administration is trying to remedy the situation by other means. Representatives of the agency have stated they are currently conducting investigations in the field of employee safety in order to determine who’s responsible for the gaps in the reports and provide viable solutions for the problem. They also mentioned that some of the measures considered to reduce the number of work accidents casualties include closing down sites and more frequent on-site inspections in all sectors.

This article was written in cooperation with Cellino Law Firm