Israel’s Shameful Record on Construction Fatalities  

For the 27th time this year, an Israeli construction worker was killed just before Passover in central Israel after being struck with a heavy object.  A passerby found the man, 60, unconscious with severe injuries to his upper body in the central town of Sdot Micha.  Magen David Adom emergency medics arrived at the scene shortly thereafter, but were forced to declare the man dead.

Just two days before, a worker plunged to his death after scaffolding at a building site in northern Israel collapsed. The man, who was not identified but was said to have been in his 30s, was pulled from the rubble by medics and pronounced dead at the scene. The incident took place in the Neve Sha’anan neighborhood of Haifa.

Deaths of construction workers in Israel are a near-weekly occurrence, largely because of poorly enforced safety codes.

Last year, a general strike was averted at the last moment after the Histadrut labor Federation reached a deal with the government to improve safety conditions for construction workers. The focus of the planned strike had been the lack of safety regulations at building sites, following the deaths of several dozen workers.

The new measures adopted last year included making the European standard for scaffolding obligatory, regulating cranes, and increasing other safety standards.  But the result has been anything but satisfactory.

But why isn’t there more an uproar?  Is it because most of the construction workers in the country are either Palestinians or foreign workers?  Would the pervasive devil-may-care attitude be the case if the people killed were Israelis?  Or is that simply too painful a question to ask?

Clearly something can be done more than increasing regulations.  As in many sectors of Israeli society enforcement is observed mostly in the breach which is one reason why there are so many automobile accidents here as well.  Drivers do dangerous things with their mobilized killing machines but have little fear of being apprehended.

However, shoddy constructions standards which lead to multiple fatalities in the course of a year can be successfully addressed.  A country that leads the world in technological development should be ashamed that this situation is allowed to continue.  The only way that construction companies will begin to adhere to the law is if (a) there is strict enforcement, (b) there are large fines for non-observance of the law and (c) there is a “three strikes you’re out” punishment philosophy.  That is to say, if a company has been found guilty of three such violations its business license should be removed permanently,

Too harsh you think?  Tell that to the relatives of the 27 people killed herd so far this year or the relatives of the other 60-70 who will yet be killed before the end of the year if the statistics continue unabated.

A country that officially worries more about who should marry whom than preserving the lives of its workers is guilty of warped values beyond the pale.   This is a problem that can be solved, where the knowhow exists to address it and where there are clear steps that can be taken.  Not doing so is being complicit in murder.  We can and should do better.

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 33 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, Ontario and Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Chairperson of the Israel Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.