The Workers Advice Center demands an urgent debate on safety at work

<p>Position paper submitted to the Knesset Committee on Labor and Welfare in response to the dangerous increase in the number of fatal work accidents</p>

Position paper submitted to the Knesset Committee on Labor and Welfare in response to the dangerous increase in the number of fatal work accidents

At the end of April 2012, the Workers Advice Center (WAC-Maan) contacted Knesset Member Haim Katz, chairperson of the Knesset Committee on Labor and Welfare, requesting an urgent debate on the increase in the number of fatal work accidents. The urgent request was also a result of the fatal accident which occurred on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl on April 17 and was a direct result of a series of serious flaws in licensing, supervision, planning and execution.

Total negligence of safety rules in central location shows the gravity of the problem

The accident, which occurred during rehearsals for the Remembrance Day ceremony, got extensive media coverage and the enforcement bodies were quick to act this time. The police and the Ministry of Labour started the investigation immediately and the directors of the company which set up the lighting rig which collapsed and those responsible for safety were arrested and questioned on suspicion of causing death by negligence. Safety was immediately reviewed at dozens of other sites where similar ceremonies were to be held.

But this rapid action was nothing but a fraud. According to an item in Channel 1 news on April 22, the new safety advisor Rami Shemesh, hired to replace the detained advisor following the accident, was convicted two years ago of negligence. Shemesh was responsible for an accident in which a scenery worker’s hair was caught by a nail on a moving stage and she was seriously injured. Shemesh was sentenced to six month’s imprisonment and fined. This happened only two years ago and now he is appointed to such an important and delicate position.

If safety protocols not followed at a central site like Mount Herzl, other sites further from the public gaze cannot be expected to be in a better shape. This is clearly a systematic failure which requires fundamental change.

Judging by past experience, it is fair to assume that if the Mount Herzl accident had not taken place before the cameras on a sensitive date, and the victim had not been a young soldier, it would have received the same attention as most other fatal work accidents – no attention at all. Thus, for example, nobody was arrested following the death of Mahmoud Akaria from the Village of Sha’ab (Western Galilee) who was killed on the same day (April 17) in an accident that occurred in a factory in the Bar Lev Industrial Zone. His death received no mention in the Hebrew media. The Arabic-language Kul al-Arab (April 20) reported that his family had hammered on the factory gates demanding to know what had happened, but received no answer.

Sharp rise in the number of accidents.

The statistics don’t lie. In 2011, there were 64 fatal accidents, an increase of 21% compared to the five-year average of 53 deaths per year. The increase in fatalities in the construction industry, the industry with the highest rate of accidents, was particularly notable: 38 construction workers were killed in 2011, an increase of 49% compared to the average. These worrying figures, which were reported to the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers at the beginning of the year, were met with no public outcry. Work accidents occur daily, but the media hardly notice.

During the last 10 years, 315 construction workers were killed. Enforcement agencies tend to treat safety negligence lightly, perhaps because most victims are Arab or migrant workers. Managers and safety officers are rarely brought to trial or punished.

The need to enforce high safety standards.

The Finance Ministry measures the success of its policies according to cuts to the budget, and it has no intention of increasing the number of safety inspectors. In recent years, construction firms and factories have transferred a lot of work to subcontractors, thus avoiding responsibility for training workers employed directly. The race to cut costs has a high price in safety: workers are disabled or pay with their lives.

WAC-Maan demands that the Knesset Committee holds an urgent debate on ways of preventing fatal work accidents and to enforce high safety standards.

We also take this opportunity to call on the Knesset to declare April 28 as World Memorial Day for the workers who died or got injured as a result of work accidents. For decades this date has been marked by labor organizations and bodies addressing safety at work around the world in memory of the victims of work accidents. In some states, it is considered a national day, marked in schools, workplaces and public spaces. It is high time Israel join this group of countries and respects the rights and dignity of workers at large and injured and dead workers and families in particular.

For further information:

Asma Agbarieh-Zahalka, WAC-Maan safety coordinator:

Hasan Sholi, certified safety officer and working at heights instructor:

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אודות Wac-Maan