Deputy Minister of the Economy and Industry Yair Golan announced the formation of a new national work safety and occupational health authority yesterday. Golan said that the new authority would unite all the government agencies dealing with safety at work, chief among them the Safety Administration, which was recently transferred to the Ministry of the Economy and Industry, and the Safety and Hygiene Institute. So far this year, sixty people have been killed in work accidents in Israel, according to figures from the Safe Work Israel Group.
"The number of those injured in accidents in Israel is still high in comparison with the rest of the world," Golan told "Globes". "We've got down to 11 casualties per 100,000 people, but the standard in the leading countries, such as Germany and Britain, is two casualties per 100,000 people. There's no reason that we shouldn’t be like them. We're a country that's easier to manage - we're small."
What will the new authority consist of?
"As soon as there's an authority, there will be an enforcement division, a training division, and an occupational health division. Occupational health has been unconscionably neglected. A conservative estimate is that 800 people die every year from occupational health hazards, such as falls or chemical harm such as from breathing hazardous materials. Some argue that the real problem is disease and not accidents. For two and a half years there has been no physician at the ministry. That's part of the political paralysis that there was here. Finally, we are now opening the tender. The occupational physician has to have a whole apparatus that deals with workplace hazards. We don’t want to find that work shortens people's lives."
On safety at building sites, the Ministry of the Economy and Industry has announced that the "stars program" introduced by the safety department at the Israel Builders Association will gradually become mandatory. So far, 48 companies have received the first safety star (the most basic level out of five stars), and one company, BST Construction, has become the first in Israel to receive two stars.
Golan: "We welcome the stars program. The real gap is at the small companies, and a mandatory training program needs to be created for them. We'll do that in collaboration with the safety officers and work managers. I'm determined to reach a situation in which no worker enters a building site without training, and, if he's a tradesman, without certification from a recognized institute. That's a process that will take time.
"There will be safety practice days at every site, and we'll find financing for that, partly from the government. We have ideas about how to do that without burdening the budget. After three months of studying the subject, my conclusion is unambiguous: there has to be a single authority that brings together all aspects of safety at work. Today, some matters are dealt with by the Safety Administration at the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services, which reflects a very outmoded concept of safety. Safety is not just enforcement, but also onsite training, audits, and reward as well as punishment. Other matters are dealt with by the Safety and Hygiene Institute, a body with no authority. For example, it runs an information center that calls on the public to complain about safety hazards."
There was talk in the past about a government hotline, but it was never set up.
"We'll form a single authority, and then it will happen. It hasn't happened because there was no-one coordinating it. From now on there will be orderly data gathering, and full transparency for the public."
Golan declares that he will harness the local authorities to the effort to supervise what happens at building sites. "Since 2018, the number of Safety Administration inspectors has been more than doubled, but even if there are four or five times as many, it has no chance of coping," he says. "It's not possible for all the supervision activity to be carried out by the government inspectors, so the local authorities have to be partners in the work of supervision."
The municipalities will tell you that they have neither the manpower nor the authority to do that.
"Under the Local Authorities Ordinance they are obliged to do it, but I'm not going to resort to formalistic arguments. It's clear to me that there will have to be government support. In every regional council and small local authority there will be at least one safety officer. In every town of up to 50,000 people there will be two, and so on. There has to be a situation in which, when a contractor starts work, someone goes through a safety check list - fences, erection of cranes, procedures for entering the site.
"Clearly, the government that I represent has to put its hand in its pocket. In the IDF, when we wanted to deal seriously with safety, we understood that there had to be safety officers at every level, and we managed to reduce accidents in exercises drastically. It wouldn't have happened otherwise." (Golan was formerly Deputy Chief of Staff of the IDF).
In the past, the Safety Administration started to promote a change in the regulations such that the developer would also be responsible in the event of an accident at a building site, and not just the contractor. Will you push for that?
"Certainly. The existing legislation is unacceptable. It's always the work manager who is to blame. There has to be responsibility at every level, from the laborer up to the developer, and for the whole chain in between, for the contractor, the subcontractor, the project manager - and it has to be defined.
"The new law, of which I already have a first draft and which will be legislated fairly quickly, will precisely define the responsibility at every level. Here too, I'm not inventing anything new. When you carry out a firing exercise at brigade level, is has to have approval from the divisional commander on the ground, and there's also a deputy brigade commander responsible for safety. All ranks have their parts to play, and that's how it will be at building sites as well."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on November 17, 2021.
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