By Hanna Zohar

The glass panel that fell from the G Tower belonging to Gindi Holdings in Tel Aviv and the collapse of the terrace in Hadera are examples of how money saving measures result in disregard for workers safety through lack of suitable protective equipment, proper training, or adequate building materials.

The disturbing growth in the number of construction workers injured in workplace accidents continues unchallenged.  According to recently published research, 900 people were injured in work related accidents through the end of November 2013, most of whom are foreign workers, Palestinians, and asylum seekers.

In the past few years the protocol of Knesset committee deliberations reveal duplicity and lack of coordination among the authorities charged with enforcement; the police and the Public Health and Safety Administration in the Ministry of the Economy.

Authorities repeatedly grumble about the lack of funds to hire sufficiently trained inspectors, while representatives of the Safety and Hygiene Institute and the Association of Contractors demand additional funds to provide the proper training. This continues, year after year, as the number of injured, wounded, and dead, continues to grow.

There may be a relationship between the inability to tackle the growing number of work accidents in the construction industry and the fact that most of the injured workers are Palestinian, foreign, and asylum seekers. Experience shows that the disregard for the safety of non-Israeli workers will eventually lead to the disregard for the safety of Israeli citizens on construction sites and in other industries.

How difficult can it be to reduce the number of injuries on the building sites?  It is not necessarily difficult at all.  Here are some simple ways to overcome this troubling development:

1. License Cancellation

Dangerous occupations require licensing such as doctors, exterminators, pharmacologists, and others professions. Existing data points to the danger in the construction industry. Licenses are provided to contractors through the Contractors Registry and their aim is to protect building and apartment owners against fraud.

Regulations provide for the cancellation of a contractor’s license for endangering workers and upon being convicted of negligence.  Unfortunately, the Contractor Registrar does not make use of this provision very often; in fact, not one license has ever been canceled for these reasons. This may be due to the fact that the criterion for endangering workers is cloudy and the enforcement system is not functioning.

The Contractors Registry should be given extended authority to clarify and enforce sanctions for non-compliance with the still muddled security measures protecting workers. For example, when a certain number of accidents have been reported, sever disciplinary actions would be implemented such as closing a building site or license cancellation even if an investigation is in progress. This would require full reporting of workplace accidents. Then these measures would effectively deter contractors from endangering employees by putting them in situations with preventable risks.

2. Full Compliance with Accident Reporting

Regulations require the employer to report every accident that caused a worker to be unable to return to work for more than three days. The report is to be made to the Safety Administration at the Ministry of Economy. These regulations were set decades ago when there was neither separation between developer and contractors nor widespread use of subcontractors. Today there are employers who have never visited their construction site making it difficult for them to report details of work accidents in a trustworthy manner. In light of the current state of the industry the regulation must be modified to stipulate that both the developer and contractor are responsible for reporting.

Due to non-enforcement almost no work accidents in the construction industry are reported. Thus hospital emergency rooms and HMOs have become the source of information about workplace injuries, as all serious injuries are reported to the police. Regulations should be extended to require hospitals and HMOs to provide regular reports regarding all workplace accidents directly to the the Safety Administration at the Ministry of Economy.

3. Budgeting for Supervisor and Worker Training

The regulations for workplace safety include clear professional standards for contractors. Therefore the training of supervisors and workers should be their responsibility, not that of the government. Once contractors and developers understand that an accident at the construction site under their supervision constitutes grounds for license cancellation or site closure they will be prepared to allocate resources for suitable employee and supervisor training.

The Contractors Association could provide support for supervisor and worker training, similar to the support they provide for government funding requests. In 1990, the Contractors Association, together with the Histadrut Union of Construction and Wood Workers, established the “The foundation for support and development of the construction field in Israel

One of the goals of the foundation is to support guidance and expansion of the professional knowledge including training in many areas for the advancement of Israeli workers in the construction industry. Funds have been collected from employers in the industry since the foundations inception and transferred to it monthly.

According to the foundation’s financial reports the collected sums total tens of millions of New Israeli Shekel and they are being used to pay lawyers and accountants, for image promotion, and even donations. It is unfortunate that they are not being used to provide security for workers employed at building sites.

The author is the founder of Kav LaOved

Publilshed in Hebrew on YNET on January 26, 2014

Translation: Sharon Kerpel