23 April 2019, Haaretz Editorial

A worker on scaffolding in Efrat, West Bank
A worker on scaffolding in Efrat, West Bank, March 27, 2019. [Credit: Emil Salman, Haaretz]

Just a few months after construction workers in Israel were abandoned by the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, which put contractors’ profits ahead of construction workers’ lives, another worker was killed Monday after scaffolding collapsed at a building site in Haifa. Firas Yassin, a 28-year-old from Arraba in the Galilee, was the 14th construction fatality this year.

But describing Yassin’s death as an accident is a distortion of the truth because an accident is an unexpected event, and nothing in Israel is more predictable than the death of construction workers.

In fact, a quarter of the fatal accidents at construction sites have been caused by faulty scaffolding. In 2017, defective scaffolding was found at 70 percent of construction sites, according to the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry. Israel’s standards for scaffolding were last updated in 1988.

Collapsed scaffolding at the site where Yassin was killed, Haifa, April 22, 2019.
Collapsed scaffolding at the site where Yassin was killed, Haifa, April 22, 2019. [Credit: Rami Shllush, Haaretz]

These and other shocking figures that explain the carnage at building sites were presented to the government by activists in the fight against construction accidents; these activists have long demanded that European standards be applied in Israel. Their demand was finally granted as part of agreements between the government and the Histadrut labor federation in November.

But at the last moment, under pressure from the contractors – who complained about the heavy financial burden – the Knesset Labor Committee retreated from the government’s commitment and approved less strict requirements for scaffolding; the requirements will take effect in June.

The retreat from the original agreement could very well cost lives. Instead of imposing European standards for scaffolding quickly, and in doing so protecting construction workers, the decision to use existing scaffolding – on the condition that the manufacturer says it meets European standards – is further testimony to contempt for human life.

The deaths in the construction industry won’t stop on their own. They will continue as long as the government and enforcement authorities serve the powerful and abandon the weak.

One day, the police will question executives and contractors whose workers were killed at construction sites. They will be questioned as criminal suspects and be indicted. The Labor Ministry will order the closure of construction sites that don’t meet standards, and heavy fines will be levied on those who violate building laws, bankrupting anyone who scrimps at the expense of workers’ lives. The government will decide that construction workers’ lives are precious and truly act to guarantee their safety.

Only on that day, the deaths of construction workers will stop being a fate based on class. Until then, there’s no reason to talk about “accidents.”

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.