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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Workplace Safety I

In the days of the Industrial Revolution, the workplace became a deadly place. Even wounds could become deadly, and wounding wasn’t uncommon. The combination of ridiculously long hours, dangerous equipment, and little or no training made the mills and manufacturing plants dangerous indeed. Times have changed. Now it’s typically more dangerous to own a factory or business than work in one. Our society has progressed! On the other hand, have we progressed to the point of the sons of Israel?

“If a man strikes the eye of his male or female slave, and destroys it, he shall let him go free on account of his eye. And if he knocks out a tooth of his male or female slave, he shall let him go free on account of his tooth.

Exodus 21:26,27 NASB

The treatment of slave owners of slaves is addressed here, and the loss of a body part, tooth to eye, resulted in their freedom. The rule clearly holds slave-owners responsible for how they treat those in that condition in their household. Back in verses 20 and 21, we saw that striking a slave, but not killing them didn’t result in the death of the slave owner. Yet, now we learn that striking them, and damaging their eyes or teeth results in their freedom, the loss of any service the master would have gained from them.

This law, again, protects those who are unable to protect themselves. And limits the penalty of those who might be helpful to the poor with their wealth. It keeps people in this society functioning. The point is to live in the land honoring God, but God allows that the stuff of life gets in the way. The details of living, bad choices, and bad circumstances distract from honoring Him. So, these rules are designed to reset the balance. A safe workplace is part of that balance.

“If an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall surely be stoned and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall go unpunished.

Exodus 21:28 NASB

This verse is clearly about the safety of working on a farm. The owner of the farm, animals and land, is held accountable for the safety of those he employs, and slaves. An ox is a crucial component to farming in that day. They were like modern tractors in that they were used for all sorts of things, not just plowing. The strength of the ox is what enabled a farm to function, whether olives, grapes, or grains were grown. But that necessary implement of farming had to be kept in check.

If, however, an ox was previously in the habit of goring and its owner has been warned, yet he does not confine it and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death. If a ransom is demanded of him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is demanded of him. Whether it gores a son or a daughter, it shall be done to him according to the same rule. If the ox gores a male or female slave, the owner shall give his or her master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.

Exodus 21:29-32 NASB

Knowing of the problem with an ox and not taking proper precautions results in death, of the ox, but also of the owner. He can be redeemed, but he doesn’t set the redemption amount. This is an issue God takes very seriously. Owners/Employers have a grave responsibility before God to care for their employees.

Holding those who have the means to employ others accountable brings balance to the economy. When the wealthy have no accountability, they will naturally oppress those with less power. Expecting them to moderate themselves is foolish. On the other hand, to excessively favor the employee disrupts the balance of an economy. To make it inordinately expensive to go into business increases risk, and lowers the return. That’s inhibits business. Business owners need to be held accountable, not punished for being in business.

So, if you own a business, how are you honoring God with how you treat your employees? If you are an employee, how are you honoring God through your work? Those are the two questions we can take away from this passage. Simple? Until we enter the doors of our employment or business. Then it suddenly gets complicated.

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