In the light fixture factory where he worked, Samir was required to carry heavy molds and light poles. Without safety guidelines and protective equipment, his body wore down and today he suffers from severe knee pain, an umbilical hernia and hearing loss.
Yardena worked on construction sites and her work with cement, chalk, pigments and glues, meant that she inhaled substances that destroyed her lungs. Today she suffers from asthma and depends on an inhaler for breathing due to her work.
Yoav used to sit bent over in the crane cabin while the engine rattled above him. This led to medical issues with his back and his ears. He was diagnosed with a herniated disc, and his quality of life has decreased significantly.
Emanuel used to clean bins with degreasers and chemical substances that damaged his respiratory system. Today he is extremely weak and unable to work.
All these people went to work to provide for their families. They all worked and returned home, but work took a toll on their bodies.
They are not alone: 1,200 workers die every year in Israel as a result of an occupational disease, and 100,000 join this circle of pain. The toll on workers, families and communities is enormous, often irreversible, and victims find themselves – in the middle of life – left with nothing. First, they lose days of work, while trying to find a quick cure for medical issues that have been developing for years. However, reality slaps them in the face: many discover that they will not be able to work in their profession ever again. Occupational morbidity condemns people who were perfectly healthy to chronic pain and suffering, forces them to undergo unwanted professional retraining, and throws them into unemployment and dependance on the National Insurance Institute. Some will be diagnosed with an occupational disease, while others will be sent home with nothing. Many die.
Can this fate be prevented? Definitely. Today, on World Day for Safety and Health at Work, we are talking about the fact that every job is dignified, but not all jobs dignify the safety and health of workers.
In order to push this neglected issue to the top of the priority list, we established a multidisciplinary coalition with trade unions, civil society, medical professionals, occupational health authorities and government ministry representatives and are working with them to promote occupational health in Israel.
“I came to my family doctor complaining about a cough and the doctor diagnosed me with asthma. He asked me, “What do you do?”, and I told him that I worked for a company of artists who build designed concrete walls on nearly finished construction sites by hand, and that I use cement, chalk, adhesives and pigments. I told the doctor that I had never suffered from asthma. After my diagnosis, I was prescribed inhalers and steroids and was referred to an occupational doctor who determined that I had an occupational disease – occupational asthma. I will have to use inhalers for the rest of my life.
At my job I was provided with medical gloves, a yellow vest and a yellow helmet, and used masks for materials with dangerous vapors, but the masks were completely filthy and did not filter dust. We tied bandanas over our noses to protect ourselves. We were not required to do periodic tests and my boss also worked without masks or adapted shoes, without protection against the dangerous materials. We were never warned about the dangers. I can’t go back to work in my profession and have been receiving unemployment benefits for the last 5 months.”
“I worked in cleaning for 6 years. I cleaned bins and surfaces with strong substances. I inhaled a lot of cleaning agents and felt bad after this. I felt weak, and, at a certain point, I could no longer work. All the money I had saved was gone and I was waiting for death, that was it. I went to the doctor and asked him to check what I had, he sent me to do a lung X-ray. After he got the X-rays he said I had severe damage that required surgery. I ended up having two lung surgeries.
My managers never told me to use gloves or masks, and I wasn’t familiar with degreasers so I didn’t know what they could do to you. I just knew that when I used it I felt bad. Now I understand what got into my lungs, but it’s already too late.”
“For 40 years I have been working in a factory that manufactures light fixtures, and I lifted heavy posts and molds every day. I bent over 200 times a day, lifting between 20 and 40 kilos each time, and I thought everything would be fine. Little by little my situation deteriorated and, looking at my boss, I realized what was going to happen to me. First I experienced an abdominal fracture [umbilical hernia], then knees problems, back pain, and then hearing problems because we work all day in abnormal noise without headphones or other safety equipment. There were workers who had to have their knees replaced, and I will probably have to do it someday too. I’m 60 today, he’s 80, and we’re still working in this job. My boss can retire, being an Israeli and this being his factory, but I live in the occupied territories so changing professions at the age of 60 is very problematic for me. Who would hire me to work on renovations with my knees? I think my career is done.”
Samir, Factory Worker
I am 64 years old and have been working on cranes for 40 years: 14 hours a day in a small, cramped cabin that doesn’t even have room for a kettle. All my life I have operated levers while bending my body to the extreme. In most cranes, engines rattled close to the cabin and sometimes when I sat between them I could barely hear the radio because of the engine noise as well as all the noise from electric hammers, tractors and diggers below. I loved my job, but my body was severely damaged, and today I suffer from tinnitus, hearing loss, a herniated disc and back problems.
I once saw Chinese welders who worked without goggles, and I was shocked. I asked the foreman why they are not provided with glasses and got a terrible answer: “Do you know how many workers are standing in line to replace this welder if he loses his sight?” So that’s how it is. Employers love healthy employees without realizing that work hurts them, and they do not take responsibility! No employer cooperated with me when I wanted to submit a claim to the National Insurance Institute and get recognition for an occupational disease. Everyone told me: “This is not an occupational disease.” Instead, they fire you and get rid of the problem.”
Yoav, Crane Operator