October 26, 2014
By Hanna Zohar
“The dark bleach is the most painful. You feel it immediately.” This is the way that P., an migrant worker from Darfur, explained it to me. She came to us with a note from her doctor proscribing two month of sick leave. The reason for the extended leave was listed as sensitivity to disinfectants. She had been working at a high-tech company for three years through an employment agency. She said that she began suffering from headaches two years ago and that for the last two months she has also been suffering from a rash on her arms. Luckily, she has an Israeli identification card which gives her the right to membership in a health maintenance organization which quickly provided her with written certification that she is suffering from a workplace injury which makes it possible to begin the process of recognition of an occupational disease. Workers who are not residents find it very difficult to obtain this certificate.
Complaints to Kav LaOved from maintenance workers point to a recurrence of injuries due to exposure to hazardous cleaning solutions resulting in symptoms such as burning eyes, skin rashes, nausea, and breathing difficulties. Injuries generally appear after a number of years of working with these solutions. From our conversations with injured workers we learn that most maintenance workers are not trained to handle hazardous cleaning solutions nor are they provided with safety equipment such as proper gloves, non-slip shoes, goggles, masks, or creams to protect their skin.
Fatal injuries are recorded and published however injuries from exposure to cleaning agents do not merit public or government attention. A public commission appointed in 2011 to inspect work place safety in Israel provides statistics regarding the extent of injury in various sectors. In a report that was published at the beginning of the year regarding workplace health, particularly occupational disease, it states that “the committee was not able to find any data with which to evaluate the extent of occupational disease and its effects on workers.” Due to the lack of data the committee evaluated the situation based on publications from other countries with similar labor markets. These publications report 1,700 annual fatalities caused by occupational illness.
A safe work environment is a basic right of all workers. It is the government’s responsibility to prevent occupational disease by assuring safe and appropriate working conditions. The lack of information available expresses the disinterest of the public in this issue resulting in government neglect of enforcing measures to prevent occupational diseases such as employee training and the provision of protective measures.
Translation by Sharon Kerpel