Using Risk Management to Optimize Forensic Laboratory Operations

Using Risk Management to Optimize Forensic Laboratory Operations

← Back to Risk Management for Forensic Laboratories Webinar Series

This webinar originally occurred on June 30, 2022
Duration: 1 hour


The use of risk management has been historically absent from the management of forensic science laboratories. While ISO 31000 (Risk Management Principles and Guidelines) and ISO 9001 (Quality Management System) emphasized risk management, it was not until ISO/IEC 17025: 2017 highlighted its importance that forensic science managers began to take note. Even since its inclusion in ISO/IEC 17025, there remains a misunderstanding on what risk management is and how it can be used to improve laboratory operations.

Risk management is used in numerous industries, and each applies the principle in a slightly different manner. For example, a retail store may define risk management in terms of reducing theft while car manufacturers may look at eliminating recalls or improving vehicle safety. Regardless, the underlying goal of risk management is to systematically account for and understand the uncertainties associated with reaching the desired objective. The primary role of forensic laboratories is to convert evidence into forensic information. This information is then used to inform numerous investigative, judicial, intelligence, and administrative processes. The objective of forensic laboratories is to ensure that the information provided is unimpeachable and scientifically valid. Forensic laboratories employ numerous quality control systems to reduce errors or failures occurring that would compromise the integrity of the forensic information. However, the likelihood and magnitude of the mistakes are often not evaluated sufficiently. Risk management provides a means to objectively assess and mitigate the factors impacting these errors or failures that may otherwise go unnoticed.

Risk management consists of three parts: identifying risk, assessing risk, and controlling risk. These three phases can be accomplished using a variety of different tools and methods. One common tool used by forensic science laboratories that closely relates to risk management is Root Cause Analysis (RCA) which assesses and controls ‘actions’ by retrospectively evaluating non-conformances. Since RCA does not technically consider risk in determining the action taken, it can be paired with a formal assessment tool such as Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) to provide an effective risk management approach to evaluating non-conformances. The value of risk management is that it can be used both prospectively and retrospectively, and tools selected to identify, assess, and control risk provide a more in-depth understanding of all the interrelated components of threats and opportunities that can affect an organization.

This webinar will demonstrate how incorporating a risk management program into a forensic laboratory’s management system assists in optimizing operations and continual improvement. Identifying risks, assessing actual and potential impacts, and controlling or mitigating events are all parts of the risk management program. Data-driven decision-making is made possible by looking for details and trends within aggregated information to assist in planning. Tools for evaluating risks help forensic laboratory management determine appropriately scaled actions, leading to decisions that organize available data to facilitate decision-making.

The webinar will define risk management and explain how risk can be both positive and negative. It will show how risk management informs strategic planning and other critical managerial initiatives. It will show how ISO has embraced risk management and provide examples of incorporating risk management in a quality management system. Lastly, the webinar will provide a case study showing how the FMEA tool was used to enhance the quality assurance programs in a forensic laboratory.

Detailed Learning Objectives

  1. Attendees will learn the meaning and purpose of risk management as it relates to forensic laboratories.
  2. Attendees will understand the value of incorporating risk management into their forensic laboratory management systems.
  3. Attendees will understand how assessing risk management can improve forensic laboratory quality assurance programs.


  • Nelson Santos | Principal Scientist, Center for Forensic Sciences, RTI International

Funding for this Forensic Technology Center of Excellence webinar has been provided by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this webinar are those of the presenter(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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