Five workers were injured in a work accident at a construction site in Beit Shemesh on Wednesday, just days after the Ministry of Labor launched its plan to update scaffolding safety standards. According to eyewitnesses, the accident involved the collapse of a portion of the scaffolding. The Ministry of Labor has ordered a halt on work at the site until a further investigation into the causes of the accident is conducted.

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Construction site accidents in Israel have become the major cause of work-related injuries and deaths in recent years. 44 workers have been killed as a result of construction site accidents this year alone, with many more suffering from severe injuries.

Just last week, one worker was killed and three injured, including an 11 year old boy at a construction site in the north of Israel. It is illegal to employ workers younger than 16 in hazardous work sites. A majority of construction workers in Israel are either foreign workers or Palestinian workers.

Work accident scene in Beit Shemesh (Photo: Health and Safety Administration)

According to the contractor who was operating the site, Wednesday's accident was directly linked to scaffolding safety. The project manager told Davar that a section of the scaffolding had collapsed after it was accidentally hit by a piece of equipment which had been operated by a separate sub-contractor, denying responsibility for the incident. “It was an accident that could have happened to anyone,” he said.

Israel is slow to adopt the European Standard

Israel has a consistently fatal record when it comes to construction site safety, which has been mostly linked to low safety standards for scaffolding. As opposed to many OECD countries, Israel has been slow to adopt a set of regulations known as the European Standard which require scaffolding to be fastened to the building itself, and have safety rails to prevent workers from slipping.

Two construction sites in Tel Aviv. On the right, scaffolding common in Israel, on the left, scaffolding by the Perry company, built according to the European Standard. (Photo: Omer Cohen)

 

Last July the Ministry of Labor decided to implement European regulations for any scaffolding over the height of 8 meters, but the transition has been slow. According to the Ministry’s plan, contractors were expected to comply with the new standards, with the oversight of Standards Institute of Israel, the body in charge of inspecting and authorizing the use of high rise scaffolding conducting routine inspections. However, as of this week the SII has yet to inspect a single construction site.

In an attempt to speed the process up, the Ministry announced last week that contractors would no longer be required to wait for an inspection, and would instead be able to contact the Ministry directly for authorization. In this way, the Ministry hopes to make the transition to safer high rise scaffolding faster and more efficient, while avoiding a bottleneck which would slow down work at construction sites and cause considerable financial damage.