The Occupational Health Crisis in Israel, New Report

According a new report published by Kav LaOved, the number of workers affected by occupational diseases in Israel is underestimated. The report estimates that there are tens of thousands of workers each year who contract occupational diseases and about 1,700 of them dies every year as a result of an occupational disease. However, this number is significantly larger than the number in the latest report published by the Registrar of Occupational Diseases in 2019, which indicates only 1,737 cases of occupational diseases. However, the topic of occupational health is absent from the public and institutional agenda and does not receive as much attention in the media as do occupational accidents.

Medical teams at a construction site in Tel-Aviv were a worker was seriously injured, December 20, 2021 (Photo: Magen David Adom)

According the report, there is a shortage of resources and manpower in every aspect of occupational health policy, including research, monitoring and enforcement. For example, there are only a small number of occupational physicians, who are a major source of information regarding occupational diseases and the primary point of contact for workers. In 2020, the number of occupational physicians in Israel stood at about 90 active physicians, which is 0.3% of all physicians. The workforce in Israel includes about 4.1 million workers and since 99.4% of all reported cases of occupational diseases are reported by occupational physicians, the scarcity of occupational physicians explains the low number of reported cases.

The lack of resources is also apparent when it comes to enforcement. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration employs only 100 inspectors who are expected to enforce all occupational safety and health laws and regulations in Israel. However, in the last two year there was not even one occupational physician in the Administration. Most of their enforcement activity is focused on occupational safety and, consequently, the supervision of occupational diseases in Israel is extremely poor.

The report shows that those populations in the working class most vulnerable to occupational diseases are also the populations about whom information is usually missing. Such populations include informal workers, workers of small and medium-sized employers and rural workers. In addition, increased competition and commonly used flexible employment patterns, such as temporary jobs, part-time jobs or “zero hour” contracts, also make it difficult to collect data on the actual extent of occupational diseases. The data for Israel provided by the Registrar of Occupational Diseases indicates that there is an under-representation of women, workers of small and medium-sized employers and informal workers, compared with an over-representation of cases reported among professional workers (55%) and workers employed in large entities with over 50 employees (66%). The over-representation is particularly prominent with employers who can afford to have an in-house clinic that provides a comprehensive solution to occupational health problems.

In addition, reports submitted to the relevant authorities include clear recommendations for reform obtained in consultation with many recognized experts in the field of occupational health. In practice, despite the resources invested in researching and formulating these recommendations, most of them are not implemented.

Kav LaOved (Worker’s Hotline) is an Israeli nonprofit organization committed to the defense of workers’ rights and the enforcement of Israeli labor law which protects every worker irrespective of nationality, religion, gender, and legal status. Since its establishment in 1991, Kav LaOved has supported the most disadvantaged populations in the Israeli labor market: migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers, Palestinians, Arab citizens of Israel and low-income workers.

The report can be download it directly from this link.