New Report on Human Error

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice (NIJ) recently released a report that documents 149 potential sources of human error in the analysis of fingerprints. A three-year scientific assessment of the effects of human factors on forensic latent print analysis was conducted by a working group of 34 experts from various forensic disciplines, statisticians, psychologists, engineers, and other scientific experts, as well as legal scholars and representatives of professional organizations.

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A summary in NIST’s Tech Beat stated that a multitude of human factors that can influence the results of latent print analysis, including inadequate training, poor judgment, vision limitations, lack of sleep, and stress. The chances of error increase if the examiner also must deal with organizational factors such as a lack of standards or quality control, poor management, insufficient resources, or substandard working conditions (such as bad lighting). The Expert Working Group on Human Factors in Latent Print Analysis was convened in December 2008 to study these factors for the first time using an evidence-based, scientific review of literature, case studies, and previous analyses. They then drew on the knowledge gained to estimate the incidence, severity, and costs of errors; evaluate approaches to reducing errors and identify those that are most effective; and promote best practices through a national agenda for error reduction.

In the report, the working group outlined 34 recommendations addressing the problems resulting from human error.

The report, Latent Print Examination and Human Factors: Improving the Practice through a Systems Approach, can be downloaded here.

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