In 2019, the number of persons killed in fatal work accidents in Israel, in all industries, rose by 56% compared the figures for 2017, according to a yearly report released by the Ministry for Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services. In addition, more people died in work accidents in 2019 than in any year since 1995, according to a report published on last Tuesday, January 8, by the workers’ rights organization Kav LaOved (Workers’ Hotline).
For the first time ever Kav LaOved’s latest report covers worksite accidents in all sectors of the economy. In previous years, the focus was only on work accidents in the construction sector. The organization’s team gathered data daily, using official announcements about work accidents from sources such as the Magen David Adom (Israel’s Red Cross) and the Israeli police. The report details that, during 2019, 86 workers were killed in worksite accidents. Another 352 workers were moderately or severely injured. These findings reveal a 23% increase in the number of work-related deaths over those that took place in 2018, and which constitute the highest in more than two decades, according to the for Occupational Safety and Health Administration which belongs to the Ministry for Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services.
Kav LaOved reports that effective measures to prevent the horrific accidents essentially do not exist. In the construction sector, the deadliest of them all, no financial sanctions were imposed on the responsible contractors. Dangerous construction sites in which workers were severely injured or killed are operating normally. More importantly, there is still a significant lack of official inspectors. Israel has never properly regulated the ratio of inspectors to workers, meaning that the country suffers from an overwhelming under-allocation of inspectors.
Last November, Hadash and Communist Party of Israel (CPI) activists, among them CPI General Secretary Adel Amer, Joint List MKs Aida Touma-Sliman and Ofer Cassif and union activists formed a working group to fight construction site accidents. During the group’s initial meeting in Haifa, the head of Hadash in the Histadrut (Israeli Federation of Labor), Dahil Khamed, told the participants how in November 2018 the Histadrut signed an agreement with the Ministry of Finance, which included a number of measures to improve worker safety. “There were many pronouncements and expectations, but a year after the agreement was signed, and after two election cycles, it turns out that much of what was agreed upon has not been implemented.”
Khamed related how “recommendations to require construction sites to install safety netting have not been enacted; enforcement of the Work Hours Law to ensure workers do not exceed the legal maximum of hours is not effective; and legislative amendments requiring the maintenance of cranes have not been passed… There are more and more fatalities among construction workers; their overall exploitation at the construction sites continues; the far-right, neo-liberal government is doing nothing, and the profits of the construction entrepreneurs are increasing,” he said.