Forensic engineering is an interesting career field with great opportunity within the industry for competitive pay, job growth and the potential to have one’s own consulting business.

A forensic engineer will travel to different locations and investigate various accidents, product failures, and mechanical mishaps. Because of the importance of this task, forensic engineers are highly educated and credentialed.  Many have PhD degrees, but most all are registered professional engineers P.E.s.

It is a nuanced profession with various specializations and roles. A forensic engineer will not only do work in the lab or office, but also may be called to testify in both criminal and civil trials, and mediations or arbitrations.

Read on to learn 10 important things about this specific field of engineering.

1) What does a Forensic Engineer Do?

Forensic engineers are called in to investigate failures of many different types including products, structures, components, systems (such as HVAC), subsystems, and components.

Essentially, the primary function is to find out exactly what happened and why. This typically involves collecting and interpreting evidence at the site of the failure, reviewing documents and interviewing witnesses.

In the vast majority of cases, the client (most often an attorney) will request a detailed report with the engineer’s findings and opinions.

In addition, the engineer may also be asked to make recommendations on how to remediate the problem or prevent future failures. Lastly, if the failure results in litigation, the forensic engineer  may be asked to testify before a court of law, or an arbitrator.

The role of an expert in the legal system is to aid the trier of fact (jury, judge, arbitrator or mediator) in their understanding of the technical issues involved in the case.

2) What is the Typical Work Environment for a Forensic Engineer?

Forensic engineers are very active and do a lot of work in both the field, or in the lab, as well as in the office. In terms of field work, the forensic engineer will visit many different sites based on where the investigation is required.  Travel is often required as experts are generally chosen, not based on their proximity to the site, but based upon their expertise.

In some cases, the work environment will be the site of a catastrophic accident. Therefore, a forensic engineer must be prepared to perform field work in difficult environments.

For instance, forensic engineers were recently brought in to investigate the deadly ride mishap at the Ohio State Fair. The forensic analysis revealed that metal fatigue caused a critical weld to crack.

Some would find this to be an emotionally challenging environment to work in considering the casualties.

Some aspects of field work are physically challenging, therefore it is helpful to maintain good health and physical stamina.

3) What Type of Products and Systems are Investigated by Forensic Engineers?

In general, there is likely a forensic engineer available to evaluate any product or system-level failure. However, there are engineers that specialize in specific areas, such as mechanical, electrical, structural or civil engineering.

For example, a forensic engineer may specialize in construction-related failures. This is a wide-ranging field that may include occupational safety, refrigeration systems, piping systems, heating and air conditioning systems, ventilation systems, and mechanical systems in general.

Depending on what type of failure occurs, there are forensic engineers qualified to analyze and opine on the subject.

4) What Type of Education is Required for Forensic Engineering?

In order to become a forensic engineer, one must graduate with at least a four-year bachelor’s degree in engineering. A specific engineering degree in forensics is not very common.

For example, applicable engineering degree programs include civil, electrical, mechanical, computer, metallurgical or chemical engineering. These majors will provide the coursework and basic knowledge required to begin  an internship in forensics.

Most forensic engineers have ten to twenty (or more) years of experience working for professional engineers to gain the level of experience and expertise demanded of a forensic engineering expert.

5) What Kind of Coursework and Common Classes Will a Prospective Forensic Engineer See?

Like any engineering degree program, a student will take core science classes. This will give the student a background in important science areas such as math, chemistry, physics, and biology.

Once the basic foundation is established, the forensic student will move onto more specific courses, depending on the area of interest. These courses will include topics (for a mechanical engineer) like thermodynamics, heat transfer, fluid mechanics, statics and dynamics, to name a few.

A wide-ranging education serves a great purpose for a career in forensics. As alluded to earlier, there are specializations within the field and a broad education will help a student find the right one.

6) What is the Job Outlook for Forensic Engineers and Technicians?

In fact, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipates that the engineering profession in general will grow by 4% by 2024.

However, this is truly an incomplete picture. The job market for forensic science technicians is projected to grow by a stunning 27% during the same time period.  At the present time, there are many more openings for forensic engineers than there are qualified applicants.

Why is there such a strong demand for professionals in the forensic engineering field? As technology rapidly improves, forensic engineers provide more value than ever before.

The information collected and conclusions reached by forensic engineers is now viewed as critical to understanding why products and structures fail.  This is critical in the litigation arena to aid the trier of facts to reach rational conclusions and verdicts.

7) What is the Average Salary of a Forensic Engineer?

In the United States, the median salary for a forensic engineer is nearly $82,000. As is the case with most careers, this salary will only increase as the engineer gains more experience.

The top 10 percent of forensic engineers earn roughly $120,000 per year. In addition to base salary, annual bonuses are typical and ranged upwards to $15,000.

Individual consultants that are considered experts in their field can make several multiples of this amount, if they venture out on their own and start a consulting practice.

8) Is State Licensing Required?

Forensic engineers are generally required to obtain a license to practice from the state they operate in. While the requirements vary from state to state, common criteria that must be met are years of experience and passing the Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam.

The practice of engineering in most states can only be conducted by people who hold a license as a Registered Professional Engineer (P.E.).  Although many graduate engineers never become licensed, an individual that desires to be considered an expert and opine on engineering issues in the public forum generally must be a P.E.

9) Should Forensic Engineers be Professionally Certified?

Obtaining a certificate in forensics is not required, but will help with career advancement and salary objectives. Forensic engineers can pursue a professional certification through the International Institute of Forensic Engineering Services.

This is a serious commitment. It will cost money to obtain the certification, although an employer may help pay for it.

In addition, professional certification may take a few years to obtain. In the end, it will be worth it as a resume building item.

Other organizations that offer certifications of one form or another are the National Academy of Forensic Engineers www.nafe.org and the Forensic Expert Witness Association www.forensic.org.

10) Forensic Science is a Matter of Public Safety

The importance of forensic engineers cannot be understated. It is imperative that the public has trust and confidence in its products, systems, and structure.

Failures are inevitable, but when they do occur, a forensic engineer will help to ensure it doesn’t become a repeat event.

Wrapping It Up

Forensic engineers provide answers when things go horribly wrong.

The career field is only growing in value as the public now asks forensic engineers to rectify the failure or testify before a judge or other trier of fact.

For any questions about forensic engineering, please do not hesitate to contact us for additional information.