Several concerns about health and lab safety

Date: March 2017



This forum has been a great resource over the past months. Thanks for hosting it!

I understand one of the main purposes of the union for students in science and engineering fields is provide safer working conditions and provide workers compensation in the event of a research related injury. I wanted to know if federal work condition regulations would apply. If the graduate students were to unionize, would laboratories now be subject to OSHA regulations? Does Cornell have a plan on how to become compliant? Would labs get shut down for a period while compliance is verified? Does Cornell have an estimate of how much it would cost and how long it would take to brings labs into compliance? This could impact student’s research, the amount of funding available for projects, and potentially delay graduations. Is there a plan for health monitoring of students who work with hazardous chemicals or in noisy or dusty environments and how Cornell will pay for it?

Thank you,

A Concerned Grad Student


Dear Concerned Grad Student,

Thank you for your Ask a Dean question. 

I’m glad you’ve found the Ask a Dean forum useful. To be clear, students who are injured already receive support from several offices across campus to help them access appropriate medical, insurance, academic, financial, and other resources, and workers’ compensation is already available to graduate students according to the process described in the Workers’ Compensation FAQ.

Also, Cornell labs are already currently covered under several federal regulations; see the lab safety programs at the EHS website. 

For example, Cornell follows OSHA’s requirement for a Chemical Hygiene Plan for laboratories; Cornell follows the personal protective equipment (PPE) required by OSHA; Cornell follows OSHA’s requirement for exposure to human blood and otherwise potentially infectious materials, the Bloodborne Pathogen Standard and students, staff and faculty who have exposure to potentially infectious human materials are enrolled in education and health programs to limit exposure to materials; and graduate students are already in OSHA programs where they receive assessments, medical monitoring, and clearances, such as, but not limited to Respiratory Protection, DOT clearance, and Animal Users Health & Safety Program. The Environmental Health and Safety site has more information.

All of the worker protections you ask about, and more, are already available to and enforced carefully for Cornell’s students, staff, and faculty.

Warm regards,


Barbara A. Knuth
Senior Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School