The Occupational Health Crisis in Israel
The way in which occupational health is handled in Israel is dismal. Workers suffer and die because of work-related illnesses which are often avoidable, while huge amounts of public money are spent in lengthy and costly health treatments instead of being used to prevent this suffering.
Kav LaOved has released a report “The Occupational Health Crisis in Israel”, highlighting the obstacles hindering a successful occupational health policy in Israel, key among them the absence of a clear and realistic picture regarding the status of occupational health in the country. The report was discussed during a meeting with experts from both the public and private sectors who also and unanimously denounced Israel’s paucity of efforts to address workers’ health. The report calls on Israeli authorities to immediately implement the recommendations of its two governmental reports on occupational health, the Adam Committee Report of 2014 and the State Comptroller report of 2015.
Occupational health and its victims

Occupational health refers to "any disease contracted as a result of an exposure to risk factors arising from work activity." A related issue, occupational safety, focuses on preventing work accidents.

Despite the much greater attention given to work accidents, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that occupational diseases - not accidents - are the cause for 86% of all workplace-related deaths worldwide.

According to ILO estimates quoted in the government-commissioned 2014 Adam Report, every year Israel sees tens of thousands of new occupational disease cases and around 1,700 deaths. Many of these go uncounted and unrecognized—a report published by the Registrar of Occupational Diseases in 2019, for example, documented only 1,727 new cases of ill workers.

Systemic change is necessary
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration, currently within the Ministry of Economy, is the main body in Israel in charge of both health and safety at work. It employs in total around 100 inspectors, a very low number for a market of 4.1 million workers. According to OECD criteria, this number should be 180 for developing country standards or 340 for developed country standards. In addition, its inspectors are not trained to identify occupational diseases.

Occupational diseases are not properly reported in Israel. Data is not collected in a consistent and coherent manner by the various responsible bodies and is not aggregated. Although the Occupational Diseases Registry, funded by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, bears responsibility for collecting up-to-date information regarding occupational diseases, it is not equipped with the necessary resources to do so (it has a staff of only two) and so the data it collects is very partial.

Current occupational health legislation dates back to 1994, leaving many new substances and professional risks off the map. Issues of ergonomics, stress and abuse at work, currently the focus of the global professional discourse, are completely absent from the local Israeli context. Tellingly, Israel is a signatory on only one ILO convention – the Benzene Convention.
Women and vulnerable workers are under-represented in Israeli data on occupational health. According to the latest Registrar’s report published in 2019, 14 male workers per every 10,000 suffered from occupational illnesses in 2017, compared with only 4.3 female workers per every 10,000. However, these figures over-represent larger establishments with more than 25 or 50 workers and the construction and manufacturing sectors where data is more regularly collected.

Data gathered on occupational health is collected only by occupational physicians who specialize in diagnosing and treating occupational diseases and work-related injuries, as well as performing fitness-for-work physical examinations. There are only 75 such physicians in Israel today and they diagnose 99.4% of all known occupational diseases. Any physician may diagnose an occupational disease and report this to the relevant government bodies, but in practice this does not happen. If all physicians, including family doctors, recorded a patient’s occupation in their medical records, there would be much more accurate data that would ultimately help to link occurrence of disease to occupation type. Yet, this is not done.
First step: a credible occupational health map

Systemic change is essential in ensuring better protection for workers in Israel, especially the most vulnerable workers. This cannot be done until there is a comprehensive policy for the prevention and management of occupational diseases and sufficient allocation of financial resources. Effective protection for all workers should be based on comprehensive data and an adequate number of trained health professionals.

As long as the recommendation to create an occupational health map put forth in the Adam Committee report is not being implemented, no real change will take place.

At Kav LaOved we will continue promoting the occupational health of workers and making their voices heard until Israeli authorities recognize the magnitude of this phenomenon and start confronting it effectively.

Full report - here.