Call for action: a diploma in masonry it’s time to provide vocational training for construction workers
Almost every visit to a construction site in Israel brings one face to face with a phenomenon that has become all too common – untrained and unprofessional manpower.
In many cases, school leavers from Israel and the Palestinian territories find work at construction sites through family members who have worked in the industry for years. Many of them show up for work at constructions site, one of the most hazardous places for workers in Israel, without receiving even the most basic level of training.
The worrying correlation between the lack of professionalism of construction labourers and the scope of accidents at construction sites makes it essential to make a thorough overhaul. First and foremost we’re dealing with human life and accidents that lead to the loss of life or serious injuries, but the ramifications are much wider.
The widespread employment of unprofessional construction labourers leads to delays in projects, closure orders, inferior quality construction, building defects and more. One of the knock-on effects of this market-wide fault is an increase in the frequency and severity of insurance claims, which has had a detrimental effect on the market over the last few years.
The government albeit invests, or at least tries to invest resources in improving safety standards at construction sites, and an effective solution might be at hand but not yet implemented. In this article we will show how introducing a diploma in masonry could turn a construction labourer in Israel into a professional employee with specialist knowledge in specific areas of construction. That is our vision of a “qualified mason”.
The contribution of the human factor to work accidents at construction sites
For some time, leading investigators have identified the human factor as the starting point in fathoming out the reason why so many work accidents occur at construction sites. When considering this at the micro level, i.e. of the individual worker, the contribution of various factors such as qualifications, skills and perception of risk becomes very clear.
Dr. Rana Abbas, a senior investigator from the research department of the Safety and Hygiene Institute, addressed this issue at length in a recent article (in Hebrew) entitled “The human factor in work accidents at construction sites”.
In his article, Dr. Abbas explains that numerous causes connect the human factor to the occurrence of severe or fatal work accidents at construction sites in Israel, almost all of which can be attributed to lack of professional training and inexperience, including:
Widespread ignorance or indifference to safety directives.
Failing to ensure labourers comply with safety procedures at construction sites, such as the use of personal protective equipment and limiting work hours.
Work environments that promote unsafe conduct due to pressure and time constraints to complete the job.
Financial incentives that award productivity on account of safety.
Social factors connected to construction labourers – poverty, peer and family pressure etc.
The image of “the tough worker” who is willing to do hazardous work to impress their colleagues.
It’s therefore clear that unprofessional manpower is the main culprit for work accidents and safety defects at construction sites and it’s clear that the frequency and severity of fatal accidents at construction sites could be reduced by providing comprehensive and in-depth training.
According to a 2021 report from the Safety Administration, around 41% of fatal accidents in the workplace involved falling from heights. The other causes, in descending order, are being hit by moving objects, collapse of equipment or structural elements and electrocution. It is superfluous to state that professional training which addresses these matters could contribute to reducing work accidents at construction sites in Israel.
It's time to turn the “construction labourer” into a “qualified mason”
As an insurance agency which is in constant contact with contractors and property developers who are involved in projects all around Israel, the issue of construction site safety is our flagship, not only from an insurance perspective, but also from a human and professional perspective.
Licensing and qualification – We believe that the time has come to turn construction labourers into qualified skilled professionals – qualified masons. Professional training programs leading to a diploma could substantially increase the level of professionalism and expertise of construction workers in Israel, enable different functions to be categorised and provide a tiered accreditation and licensing system based on the qualifications, seniority and experience of the employee.
Reinforcing the personal responsibility of the construction worker – We believe that the process of training, qualification and tiered licensing will in itself reinforce the sense of personal responsibility of the employee for their own safety, their colleagues and the surrounding area.
Documenting and monitoring the safety history of the employee as an indicator for promotion and wage increases and as a tool for ascertaining their suitability to work in a specific project or site.
Improving the underwriting results of the Contractors All Risks insurance sector
We believe that changes outlined above will have far reaching benefits – not only saving lives, but much more.
This economic burden bears direct correlation to the cardinal changes that have occurred in the insurance industry over the last few years. Global reinsurers – insurance companies that share the risk with the Israeli insurance companies – have hardened their stance in the Contractors All Risks sector.
The Israeli construction industry has earned a reputation of being a high risk sector in the eyes of the reinsurers, who are actively seeking to limit their exposure by making underwriting criteria much more stringent. This has had a major impact on construction insurance in Israel and it has become increasingly more difficult to arrange insurance for projects which have a potential to generate a high frequency of claims and for certain types of work in the construction industry which are considered to be especially hazardous.
The Israeli market has seen huge increases in premiums and deductibles, sometimes reaching hundreds of thousands of Shekels.
In this context I would also point out that there is an ongoing trend in Israeli courts to place a much higher level of responsibility on contractors, developers, engineers and foremen for construction site safety and liable for much higher compensation in the case of work accidents (including in view of the “Lost Years” ruling).
Improving the quality and reputation of the construction industry
We firmly believe that creating a framework for professional accreditation leading to the title “qualified mason” could substantially improve the quality and reputation of the construction industry in Israel. In other words, not only will the clients obtain a better quality product, but they (as well as the contractors and developers) will face less costly, onerous and unnecessary legal proceedings due to construction defects and maintenance liability.
Furthermore, introducing a diploma in masonry into the methodology of construction personnel will give a sense of pride to the profession and attract workers from other sectors who shy away from the construction industry, despite the high earnings potential.