What Is Forensic Engineering & Who Is A Forensic Engineer_2

What Is Forensic Engineering & Who Is A Forensic Engineer?

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Despite engineering’s focus on designing and constructing safe structures that will operate correctly, failures can still happen. 

Forensic engineering investigations are conducted by certified expert engineers who apply their expertise and reverse engineering techniques to analyze the cause of the problem. It is the responsibility of forensic experts to reconstruct events and offer explanations for why such failures occurred to courts and individuals alike.

Forensic engineering is the implementation of engineering concepts and scientific principles to investigate malfunctions, particularly malfunctions of a machine, subsystem, component, or structure. 

People often refer to it as reverse engineering since these applications are used to discover what went wrong or why something isn’t functioning correctly. Keep reading if you have questions like “what does a forensic engineer do?” or “what are forensic engineering methods?” to find all you need to know.

Definition of Forensic Engineering

As the name suggests, forensic engineering is the use of engineering skills to figure out why a machine or structure broke down. Additionally, it attempts to pinpoint why the damage occurred to a building or equipment.

Through forensic engineering, our world has become a safer place. Knowing ‘why’ something did not work or failed to perform as expected is at the core of what leads to improved design, better performance, and more robust constructions. 

As consumers have demanded increasingly high levels of quality, forensic engineering has rapidly expanded since the 1990s. Financial or judicial experts often employ a forensic engineer in search of deeper explanations for an event and insight into the circumstances surrounding the incident.

One of the most prevalent uses of forensic engineering is in investigating product liability cases. Both plaintiffs (victims) and the accused parties rely on professional witnesses to prove a chain of cause and effect and establish guilt.

Note: Read about how Canadian Forensic Engineering is in a Downward Spiral.

What Does A Forensic Engineer Do

Forensic engineers investigate the events leading to a defect, breakdown, incident, or catastrophe. This process is known as reverse engineering.

These professionals ensure that the cause of loss is appropriately evaluated and fair results are achieved for insurance claims, lawsuits, and investigations.  

A forensic engineer’s responsibilities can be broken down into two parts: engineering and investigation.

Investigatory capabilities are required as soon as a construction or manufactured component fails. When catastrophic structural failures cause death, harm, and devastation or faulty tests, the forensic engineer is called upon by law enforcement agencies and designers to gather evidence to determine what went wrong.

Although, it is impossible to say that these two skills are all that forensic engineers need.

Forensic Engineer Skills

Forensic engineers are responsible for investigating and improving failures or gathering evidence to support legal claims. A keen eye for detail and a thorough understanding of the principles of science are essential for forensic engineers.

Due to the potential ramifications of failure investigation, forensic engineers must possess technical expertise pertaining to their field. Moreover, they need to be able to communicate clearly and effectively. 

Inquisitiveness is one characteristic that all forensic engineers share. Regardless of their discipline, all forensic engineers enjoy solving problems too. It’s essential to understand how things work and what causes incidents.

Reporting is another essential skill for any engineer. The ability to explain – clearly and scientifically – the results of investigations plays a critical role in achieving success.

The Investigation Process of Forensic Engineers

There are a few stages to what a forensic engineer does to investigate the causes and issues surrounding an incident.

Identification Stage

Building forensic investigators conduct thorough interviews with property owners, tenants, or customers. They aim to understand the concern or issue by considering the client’s or others’ observations, free of prejudice or bias. 

Using checklists, tracking sheets, and other similar documents can be helpful in this process.

Gathering Evidence

This second step occurs when an approach is developed for resolving the issue. 

Besides the valuable data collected during live forensic recording, most forensic data usually stems from snapshots of secondary storage and external storage devices such as hard disk drives.

Data collection is essential here before data analysis and hypothesis formulation. Analyzing and developing hypotheses prematurely may result in biased results.

Evidence Investigation

The fourth step can only begin after all the available data has been collected. This step involves cognitively analyzing the gathered data based on the analysts’ education, training, skills, and background.

Whenever possible, original media should not be used for analysis; a forensically reliable binary backup should be used instead.

Drawing A Conclusion

Engineers analyze the evidence collected and determine the causes of structural failure using forensic engineering methods and theories.

Using the information discovered, the forensic expert creates, examines, records, and then presents a rational breakdown of the cause, effect, and recommended solution for a given building or building environment issue.

One hypothesis often dominates the discussion and is regarded as the root cause of the problem. Sometimes, however, more than one hypothesis cannot be excluded entirely. In such a case, it is necessary to find out if any alternative hypotheses are more likely to be accurate than the others.

Creating A Report

Creating a forensic report that outlines potential findings concludes the forensic process.

As with any stage of forensic investigation, forensic engineers must maintain documentation and a “chain of custody.” The final report must include the following.

  • Failure causes and nature
  • Evidence presented by an expert before the court 

Structure Defects

We have found that the most serious defects are hidden from the average viewer. Therefore, the true extent of the problem can only be determined after a thorough survey. Many of these defects are related to incorrect robust details or air and water penetration. 

It’s often only after a defect or a transfer of ownership that the seller becomes aware of them, which can lead to disappointment. 

Note: Don’t forget to read The Risks of Dangerous Wiring Practices: A Forensic Engineer’s Perspective before buying a new property.

Types of Defects

Forensic engineers look for the causes of a problem by examining different categories of machine failures.

For example, a product failure occurs when a fundamental component breaks. Process failure occurs when a product is manufactured incorrectly. The concept of design failure describes a flaw in a product’s initial design, ultimately leading to the failure of the entire product family.

Although some forensic techniques and laboratory methods used in these methods originated in criminal forensic investigations, our current topic is not about crime victims. We are engineering experts, and Roar Engineering Forensic Investigations often focus on indoor environments and buildings. 

Two main types of defects are involved in investigating a failed product or structure; primary and secondary.

Primary Defects

It is the design or manufacture of the product that causes primary defects.

Their impact ranges from repairable with minimal damage to catastrophic. The following factors determine the graveness of faults. 

  • Costs of repairs
  • Duration of downtime
  • Issues associated with health and safety
  • Service delivery and productivity impact.

Forensic engineering solutions are designed to correct failing components or systems by determining why they failed.

Secondary Defects

Since human error accounts for over 90% of structural failures, it is crucial to understand why people behaved as they did before a failure. People’s presence and proximity to essential parts of a structure could affect its overall condition.

Sometimes, even the property surrounding the main structure may cause problems. All of these are referred to as secondary defects, and it’s the forensic engineer’s job to find and solve them.

Forensic Engineering Methods

People have learned the importance of forensic science through crime dramas and police shows. However, forensic science goes far beyond analyzing fingerprints, DNA, firearms, and tool imprints.

Forensic experts who serve the insurance industry must use a reliable methodology to investigate claims and determine their causes.

Fracture mechanics

In fracture mechanics, flaws are analyzed to determine those that are safe (not growing) and those that are likely to spread into cracks, causing a structure to fail. 

In fracture mechanics, we study cracks, pressure fields, and the intensity of stress surrounding cracks. The method uses analytical and physical mechanics to estimate crack driving forces. Experts in this subfield also use experimental solid mechanics to assess the material’s fracture resistance.

This method began with analytical solutions for stresses at holes in 1898, followed by ellipses in 1913.

Mechanical components may be flawed due to the manufacturing, processing, machining, and forming processes. Metal structures are prone to interior and surface flaws caused by the manufacturing process.

Forensic Civil Engineering

Forensic civil engineers employ forensic engineering methods to analyze legal and criminal evidence. Doing so allows them to explain how a bridge or a building fails, how foundation damage occurs, and how floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes cause damage to buildings.

Suitable candidates carry out forensic investigations according to scientific principles, using comprehensive investigation strategies and a solid understanding of engineering principles. 

Forensic Structural Engineering

Forensic Structural Engineering involves studying structures to determine why they fail. It is possible to settle claims that arise from failures by determining their causes. Forensic engineers are often sought out as expert witnesses and professionals capable of providing solutions for structural failures. 

Engineers conduct engineering investigations as part of the practice, providing expert opinions and witness testimony when necessary. Moreover, forensic engineers can use their expertise to minimize losses so that projects are carried out efficiently and safely.

Types of Forensic Engineer Investigations

A forensic engineer can take on a variety of roles. Most fall into one of the following categories:

  • Fire & explosion investigations
  • Structural forensic engineering
  • Forensic building consultants
  • Materials engineering
  • Chemical engineering
  • Electrical engineering
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Drone analysis
  • Accelerant Detection

Our company is a leading forensic investigation firm with a reputation for responding quickly, producing comprehensive reports and solid evidence, and providing expert witness testimony. You can rely on our expert team in multiple disciplines in Canada to find the solution you need.

The Role of Forensic Engineers in Today’s Society

It is common for government agencies to hire engineers, especially in the evaluation of catastrophic events, such as collapsed bridges and aircraft crashes. Often, manufacturers hire forensic engineers to look into specific product faults and identify the causes so that future improvements can be made. 

A forensic engineer’s report is used in cases involving injury or property damage, such as a structural failure, a malfunctioning sprinkler, or an injury caused by damage to a machine. It is also common for these findings to be used in court to settle a dispute. 

If this happens, the engineer will be questioned about the cause of the failure. Furthermore, engineers are responsible for investigating catastrophic damage caused by hurricanes, floods, explosions, and large fires.

Forensic engineers specialize in many fields, from biology to metallurgy, to geotechnical engineering. The other subdivisions are finance, art, electronic, and botany forensics. There is also forensic astronomy, forensic archaeology, and forensic humanity studies.


Despite extensive structural and product testing, even the most meticulous designs can fail during and after construction.

Forensic engineering investigates property damage and accidents caused by failures of materials, elements, combinations, and structures. Depending on the severity, these events can be minor, like a broken crankshaft, or catastrophic, like a collapsed bridge.

Afterward, forensic experts can use their conclusions in court. Specifically, they use their evidence in court if the failure caused human injury or damage to property. 

With Roar Engineering’s knowledge of construction, contractor agreements, and forensic analysis, we can conduct forensic investigations, helping you resolve issues and help you take legal action if necessary. Talk to us, and we’ll make sure you find an expert who can help you.

What Does A Forensic Engineer Do? FAQ

What is the work of a forensic engineer?

Consider the case of a building collapse or a malfunctioning car part. In such cases, a forensic engineer is tasked with identifying failure causes and giving professional testimony regarding structural repairs.

What is an example of forensic engineering?

An engineer studies investigatory records and assesses the causes of structural failure based on engineering theories and procedures. For example, a report written by a forensic engineer can be used in litigation in the event of catastrophic failure. 

Legal matters may also require forensic engineers to testify as to why a structure collapsed.

How can I be a forensic engineer?

You need to graduate with an Abet-approved bachelor’s degree in engineering and qualify for the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam.

Who performs forensic engineering?

A forensic engineer is someone who has a degree in engineering and is knowledgeable in the area of their expertise. Unlike general engineering practice disciplines, forensic engineering has a wide range of specialties.