Henry Ford once said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” Forensic structural engineering involves 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. Over 90% of structural failures are attributed to human errors, according to the Institution of Civil Engineers, so a significant part of forensic investigation 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. In response, the Forensic Engineering Journal have published a themed issue featuring four, full-length papers that attempt to highlight the importance of professional practice in structural engineering and to help provide guidance in developing regions.
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. A new study by the National Foundation for American Policy shows that denial rates for H-1B visa requests have skyrocketed from six percent in 2015 to 24% – meaning that hiring managers are increasingly having to fight over a shrinking talent pool of US structural engineers rather than look abroad to fill the talent shortage.