The Tower of Pisa, 20 Fenchurch Street (affectionately known as the Walkie Talkie in London) and the John Hancock Tower (now simply known as 200 Clarendon Street) are all known for the wrong reasons – structural issues.
Forensic Structural Engineering is the careful analysis of buildings or structures that have failed and resulted in property damage, personal injury, or both, in order to determine the primary and contributory causes and to prevent future structural failures from occurring. These may include sub-par maintenance practices, accelerated project delivery, rapid economic development, and renovations to older structures.
Forensic Engineers are crucial to settling disputes on both the cause of a failure and the technical aspects relating to whether a structure was constructed to be compliant with relevant legal requirements and design codes, while also serving as expert witnesses to legal teams who may be assessing a construction claim. While compressive, tensile, bending and buckling are the basic types of structural failure for construction elements, over 90% of structural failures are attributed to human errors, according to the Institution of Civil Engineers. A significant part of forensic investigations is to understand the actions and behaviors of people that played a part in the sequence of events that caused a structural failure.
The issue of forensic engineering is a considerably different subject in developed countries than it is in developing ones. Lack of resources, legislation, and professional practice means that heavy civil structures as well as buildings are often at a higher risk of failure. However, well-developed countries are also at the mercy of poorly created buildings too, meaning Forensic Engineering is booming.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that jobs in this field are predicted to increase by eight percent from 2016-2026 – far above the national average for other sectors. Job growth in this sector is out-pacing the availability of Engineers with the right skills – meaning that hiring managers are increasingly having to fight over a tight talent pool of Structural Engineers to fill their talent shortages.