If you’ve ever seen an industrial accident, a building collapse, or heavy machinery fail, you understand that the situation can be chaotic and complicated. The parties involved need to determine exactly what happened to cause the accident. A forensic engineer can help.
What Is a Forensic Engineer?
A forensic engineer often plays the part of a detective. While other types of forensic scientists might evaluate DNA, identify chemical components, or collect fingerprints, a forensic engineer determines why materials and structures failed.
Forensic engineers collect evidence and identify the cause or causes of an incident. We often testify in court as expert witnesses if needed. Determining the cause of an accident is important because it defines culpability, or which party is responsible. A forensic engineer also identifies what materials or processes need to be improved to keep accidents from happening again.
Forensic engineers are involved in a wide variety of cases. Anything can break if you do it right (or wrong)! Our most common cases are in the oil field or construction industries. When it comes to heavy machinery, a part failure can mean big accidents. In other industries, the problem might mean a bridge collapse, property damage, or a factory accident. Whenever industrial accidents happen, we help determine causation.
No two cases are exactly the same, which is why forensic engineers need to record and investigate things in extensive detail every time.
To get a better idea of the role of forensic engineers, consider the dangers of an oil field.
Oil Field Accidents
Grievous injuries can occur in an oil field, and it can cost companies lots of money in payouts, lost production, and broken machinery. In such cases the oil company itself might retain the services of a forensic engineer, but it might also be an insurance company or an affected party looking to collect damages.
The oil and gas industries involve some of the most dangerous jobs in the country. The possibility of severe injury increases when a company cuts corners by not maintaining equipment or ignoring safety precautions. Below are a few types of oil field accidents that a forensic engineer might investigate.
Oil workers face a lot of hazards, but they have some heavy machinery to help them do the job. If the equipment fails to operate as designed, it can endanger those on the job and damage other machinery. When a forensic engineer investigates equipment failure, they can identify the source of the incident, whether it be design flaw, material failure, or improper maintenance.
More than half of oil field fatalities are from falls, usually due to equipment that isn’t properly assembled or maintained. It’s the employer’s responsibility to ensure that safety procedures are followed, equipment is inspected, and performance is supervised where necessary. Forensic engineers can determine if a fall was preventable and what party is responsible.
Although the nature of my job means I’m usually called to a site after an accident has occurred, , I was once attending an engineering conference and passed by scaffolding that was being put up. From experience, I could see that the structure wasn’t going to hold and was very dangerous. Fortunately, I was able to contact the crew and help them correct it before someone took a bad fall. Not all are so lucky.
Explosions and Fire
Oil workers often use heavy tools, cutting, welding, and drilling in proximity to flammable materials stored in tanks or pipes. When conducting hot work, mishaps can mean disaster. A forensic engineer can tell you if the equipment was at fault or if the accident was due to improper maintenance or ignoring safety precautions.
Forensic Engineers Can Resolve Insurance Claims
A forensic engineer can help companies resolve disputes, establish coverage, or identify which insurer should be held accountable for a loss. Although complexity varies from one case to another, it’s best to involve us as soon as possible. The earlier the investigation begins, the faster a claim can be settled, and the less time and money will be spent on legal battles.
Here are some other scenarios when a forensic engineer like myself can help investigate a claim:
- The claim is being contested in court. After determining the origin or cause of an accident, forensic engineers can act as an expert witnesses. We can provide a professional, independent opinion of the investigation due to our technical and forensic expertise.
- The claim involves equipment failure. Even if your insurance covers the incident, if the fault lies with the manufacturer or designer of a product, there might be an opportunity for subrogation.
- The claim involves multiple parties. A complex case might involve your company, your insurance company, an injured party, an equipment manufacturer, and a third party responsible for maintaining the equipment. A forensic engineer can help determine which party is responsible for the accident.
Hear It Straight From a Fort Worth Forensic Engineer
When materials fail, forensic engineers find out what happened and why. Whether it’s a pipeline explosion or just a repairman using the wrong tool and damaging your property, we have the expertise to help.