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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Can a Graduate Student Get Workers’ Compensation?

Attention to laboratory safety generally focuses on preventing injuries. A case at Cornell University, however, raises important issues about what happens after an injury has occurred. 

Chemical engineering graduate student Richard Pampuro suffered permanent, disabling damage to his right hand—and, one supposes, harm to his finances from two operations and extensive physical therapy, and possibly to his long-term earning potential—after glass from a shattered bottle pierced his arm, severing tendons and an artery. Now, Pampuro’s fellow graduate students are demanding that he receive workers’ compensation, reports. The university disagrees, and the New York State Workers' Compensation Board is investigating.

The legal status of students injured in university labs is often unclear. Workers’ compensation laws vary widely among states, as do universities’ policies, The Chronicle notes. At some schools, graduate students qualify for the coverage; at others they do not. 

Beyond that, occupational safety laws that cover employees do not apply to students. When a lathe that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration identified as lacking required safety features killed Yale University senior physics student in 2011, the agency lacked jurisdiction to sanction the university. (Yale University denied that the lathe was substandard). 

On the other hand, when lab assistant Sheharbano "Sheri" Sangji died in 2009 as a...

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