Workplace Safety II

Have you ever let someone, a friend maybe, borrow something of yours, only to have them break it? I hate that. At least I hate it when they had me back the broken thing I lent them. Sucks to be me, I guess. That’s not exactly God’s perspective. For God, it seems that, “you break it, you bought it” rings more true.

“If a man opens a pit, or digs a pit and does not cover it over, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall make restitution; he shall give money to its owner, and the dead animal shall become his.

Exodus 21:33,34 NASB

Keeping a workplace safe isn’t just about the employees, it’s also about the things used in the course of the work. If a business owner borrows material needed to conduct business, then he has a responsibility to keep the material safe and in good working order. That means that, if the workplace is destructive to whatever is borrowed to conduct business, steps should be taken to protect the material.

I have a side job working for a coffee bar. In this job, the owner relies on material supplied by a vendor to provide coffee. It’s a great vendor. They provide training, but also coffee machines. They do this to promote small coffee shop business, and in turn grow their own business. But what happens when one of the young barista’s breaks one of their machines? The vendor has a choice, but so does the business owner. According to this passage, the business owner is liable, or at least should try to be.

But this particular law would probably apply better to “facilities”, where holes to do more plumbing were to be done, or run various types of cables underground. What about utility companies running their utilities underground along a roadway? There are lots of reasons businesses dig in the ground these days. This rule basically says, cover the pit, or pay for damages. Our society agrees, even 4,000 years later. Go figure.

“If one man’s ox hurts another’s so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and divide its price equally; and also they shall divide the dead ox. Or if it is known that the ox was previously in the habit of goring, yet its owner has not confined it, he shall surely pay ox for ox, and the dead animal shall become his.

Exodus 21:35,36 NASB

Don’t you hate it when oxen fight? The point here isn’t the oxen, but the responsibility of the business owner. If the ox hadn’t done this before, then they split the benefit and cost. Rather than try to figure out which ox is to blame, or started the fight, just divide the ox, both live and dead (someone’s grilling tonight!). This prevents the sort of useless fighting that divides and unbalances a community.

On the other hand, if a business owner knows about the condition of the ox (for instance, he bought an ox that killed another), and doesn’t restrain it. That’s the point here. The business owner needs to keep his workplace safe. In the coffee shop illustration, the machines need to be safe to work with. In the coffee shop, that means they have to have the right sort of electrical setup, 240-volt outlets and the right amperage. If they don’t, they’re not safe, and neither are those who work with them.

Sure, keeping a workplace safe is expensive, but it’s important. If those who have the means to be an employer don’t keep the employees safe, they fail, and are subject to punishment. If they try, but “stuff happens”, that’s not on them. In our society though, we want to punish everyone involved to ridiculous levels. These workplace safety laws hold business owners accountable, but also strive for balance. Ironically, the political mantra of the early 21st century, “It’s the economy, stupid” also applies here. But for greed, few get it, whether business owners or those hurt at work.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

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