Academic journal article Forensic Science Communications

Identifying and Mitigating Workplace Stress among Forensic Laboratory Managers

Academic journal article Forensic Science Communications

Identifying and Mitigating Workplace Stress among Forensic Laboratory Managers

Article excerpt


During the past several years, the impact of workplace stress on American workers has been increasingly recognized. Although the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has acknowledged that views differ "on the importance of worker characteristics versus working conditions as the primary cause of job stress" (NIOSH 1999), the ultimate message is clear. Certain working conditions, such as excessive workloads and conflicting expectations, are stressful and negatively affect most people.

Within the law enforcement profession, stress has been the focus of significant research and discussion (Malloy and Mays 1984; Territo and Sewell 1999; Terry 1981). Academicians, researchers, and practitioners have critically examined subsets of the law enforcement population, including executives and administrators (Sewell 1986), investigators (Sewell 1994; Stratton 1979), officers with unique responsibilities (Bartol et al. 1992; Girodo 1991; Sandy and Devine 1978; Sheehan 1999), and nonsworn personnel such as dispatchers (Burke 1995).

Although major sources of stress were identified through this research, ongoing changes in law enforcement continue to produce significant levels of stress and its accompanying physical, psychological, and emotional manifestations. Support staffs have also been impacted, but, too often, administrative recognition of and reaction to such stress is lacking. This situation is most pronounced in the forensic science disciplines, among the laboratory systems and personnel that form the backbone of criminal justice effort and success.

Of particular concern and the focus of this article is stress on those who manage forensic scientists on a day-to-day basis. These forensic managers must not only recognize and effectively deal with the impact of change on their personnel, but must handle their own stress as well. This article identifies and suggests techniques to mitigate some of the major sources of stress these men and women face.

Stress Among Forensic Managers

Change in the forensic services has been explosive. The educational expectations for new forensic scientists, especially in the more technical fields, have expanded, and training time for beginning analysts has increased. Technological advancements and legal mandates have led to new, more exact, and often more complicated and complex procedures that require even greater skills on the part of practicing forensic scientists. The courts and the public in general, especially as a result of high-profile crimes and trials, have a greater, though not necessarily more realistic or valid, expectation of what forensic scientists can do and how they should perform their duties. Defense challenges to courtroom testimony by laboratory personnel and a wider use of defense experts demand the highest level of technical competency and courtroom presentation skills. The ethical requirements of the forensic sciences mandate the constant review and assurance of both organizational and individual integrity.

Stressors facing forensic managers fall within two major categories:

* Those created by the nature of forensic sciences

** Zero tolerance for mistakes

** Quantity of incoming submissions

** Conflict with investigators and prosecutors

* Those created by the nature of the job

** Changing managerial responsibilities

** Lack of managerial preparation

** Failure of higher level management to fully understand complex laboratory issues

Zero Tolerance for Mistakes

The integrity of forensic evidence analysis and its implications with regard to the guilt or innocence of suspects demand the highest quality work by forensic scientists. Technical or peer reviews of each case and internal and external proficiency tests are designed to ensure the accuracy of analyses and the competency of each bench examiner. …

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