NIST Corner: OSAC Registry Grows with Addition of Standards and Guidelines
Written by Sharon Nakich   

The Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC) for Forensic Science recently approved two new documents for inclusion on the OSAC Registry—a trusted repository of high-quality, science-based standards and guidelines for forensic practice. The addition of these documents—NFPA 921: National Fire Protection Association Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations, and ISO/IEC 17025:2005 - General Requirements for the Competence of Testing and Calibration Laboratories—brings the total number of documents on the registry to three. An additional 151 standards and guidelines are in the works.

OSAC, which is administered by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), is working to strengthen forensic science by facilitating the development of discipline-specific, science-based standards and guidelines for a broad array of forensic disciplines. To be posted to the OSAC Registry, standards and guidelines must have been developed using a consensus-based process that includes public comment and must pass a review of technical merit by forensic practitioners, academic researchers, statisticians, and measurement scientists.

Guidelines for Fire Investigation

NFPA 921: Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations applies to the investigation of all types of fire and explosion incidents, both accidental and intentional, from residential and motor vehicle fires to multi-story high-rise fires and industrial plant explosions. Fire investigators who work for public agencies, insurance companies, and litigation firms all rely on this document in their daily work.

Craig Beyler, the chair of OSAC’s Fire & Explosion Investigation Subcommittee, shepherded the guide through the OSAC approval process. “NFPA 921 is regarded as the standard of care in the fire and explosion investigation community and in the courts,” Beyler said. “It sets a high bar for science-based investigation and analysis of fire and explosion incidents.”

Standards for Test and Calibration Laboratories

ISO/IEC 17025:2005 specifies the general competency requirements for conducting laboratory tests and calibrations. This standard applies not just to forensic laboratories, but to all testing and calibration laboratories. Accrediting bodies customize the application of ISO/IEC 17025 to forensic laboratories by applying forensic-specific supplemental standards and documents.

“While this standard is already widely implemented in the domestic and international forensic science community, we believe that adding the standard to the OSAC Registry will broaden its impact,” said Scott Oulton, chair of the OSAC Chemistry/Instrumental Analysis Scientific Area Committee.

Promoting Standards Across Forensic Science Disciplines

Mark Stolorow, director of OSAC affairs at NIST, said that OSAC scrutinizes existing standards and guidelines from a range of standards developing organizations for their technical merit and due process.

“Elevating these documents to the official OSAC Registry is an endorsement of their high quality, and it encourages their adoption by other agencies and practitioners,” Stolorow said. “The OSAC Registry is positioned to serve as the one-stop shop for approved standards and guidelines in the forensic science industry.”

The goal of OSAC and its 550-plus members is to facilitate the development of science-based standards and guidelines for each of 25 distinct forensic science disciplines and to promote their widespread adoption.

NOTE: During the process of evaluating standards and guidelines, OSAC identifies important gaps in existing research. OSAC then publishes a list of research needs that other agencies can consider as they develop their research programs, solicit research funds, or establish grant programs. The most recently published list of research needs is available here.

About the Author

This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it is Project Manager with OSAC for NIST.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2016 digital issue of Evidence Technology Magazine.

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