Approximately 26 veterinary students reported injuries in the 2014-2015 academic year, representing 63 percent of reported graduate student injuries. Additionally, around 25 percent of the total reported injuries were classified as cuts, lacerations and abrasions.
The University has pooled this data after implementing a new set of procedures to handle graduate student injuries, responding to a Graduate and Professional Student Assembly resolution from 2014. The new process allows students to formally record an injury through Cornell’s injury report system. After graduate and professional students seek medical help, they should file an accident report, through this new online portal, according to a University press release.
On the new online portal, students can indicate if they are graduate or professional students, which prompts assistance from many different agencies, including Cornell’s workers compensation fund, according to Timothy Fitzpatrick, director of Occupational Health and Safety.
“Selecting this category during the entry process triggers a timely, coordinated response by the various offices to address the injured student’s needs,” Fitzpatrick said.
Responding agencies include the Offices of Graduate Student Life, Risk Management, Graduate Academic and Student Affairs, Student Disability Services and Environment, Health and Safety.
Since the procedure has been implemented, all four of the workers compensation claims filed by students with medical expenses associated with their injuries have been paid by Cornell’s Worker’s Compensation fund, according to the University.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, a lab accident in August 2013 left Richard Pampuro grad severely injured, leading some to question whether graduate students should be entitled to workers’ compensation payments. This accident highlighted the “murky” procedures in place to handle graduate student injuries, inciting debate about workers’ compensation payments for graduate students.
Paul Berry grad said he believes graduate students should be guaranteed worker’s compensation payments, but the current policy “leaves open many ambiguities as to who is actually covered.”
“Workers’ compensation coverage is the most basic rights of any employee anywhere: the right to paid medical expenses and financial compensation for a workplace injury,” Berry said. “The position of the Cornell Graduate Students Union, our grad union, is that Cornell graduate workers are workers as well as students. We work long hours and produce value for the University. Cornell’s standing as a top research institution is built the labor of its graduate employees.”
The new graduate student injuries procedure, aims to make it easier for injured graduate students to receive the assistance they need.
“In the past,” Fitzpatrick said, “there was not a single portal designed specifically for graduate and professional students to report an injury, so it was not clear to injured students who they should tell about their injury and how they could seek help with missed classes, delays in research progress, filing insurance forms, or seeking disability accommodations.”
One goal of the new procedure is to help students get the assistance they need to handle the unique challenges graduate students face when their injuries get in the way of their work.
“Graduate students in research degree programs face particular challenges if their injury prevents them from conducting their thesis or dissertation research scholarship, which can sometimes be time-sensitive,” Fitzpatrick said. “In some cases, it is much harder to ‘make up’ missed research than it would be to get the notes from a missed class or hand in an assignment later.”
A system for handling injuries is necessary because graduate students may be exposed to “potentially hazardous and risky conditions” on university property on while engaging in university-sponsored activities depending on their research and professional training, according to Fitzpatrick.
“For example, graduate students in chemistry need to be aware of potential risks associated with use or storage of chemicals and know how to follow appropriate chemical handling procedures,” Fitzpatrick said. “Graduate students in anthropology need to be aware of potential risks associated with travel to other countries and know how to use the international travel registry.”
A second goal of the new procedure is to prevent future injuries by collecting data and learning about the conditions that lead to injuries.
“A key component to reducing the risk of injuries is to ensure everyone involved in the research project understands the potential hazards of the work they are performing, equally understands or develops the necessary steps to perform that work safely and follows that safe method every time,” Fitzpatrick said.
Berry added that he believes the best course of action for graduate students is for Cornell Graduate Students United and the University to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement “that provides clear and enforceable protections in every situation.”
“By unionizing and securing labor rights for graduate workers, our union hopes to have a productive, mutually-beneficial relationship with the University that makes Cornell a leader in graduate employee engagement among private universities nationally,” Berry said.