In most legal systems, experts are often needed to testify at both civil and criminal trials, both to give opinions and to explain complicated evidence to a jury. A safety expert would most likely be needed to testify in a civil lawsuit for injuries sustained as the result of someone's negligence. In order to become a safety expert witness, a potential witness will usually need a combination of education and practical work experience. Qualifications necessary to become a safety expert witness will vary by jurisdiction; however, an individual will also generally have established a reputation as an expert in safety among his or her peers.
Although a safety expert could potentially be needed to testify in any type of trial, the most likely scenarios within the judicial system in the United States are a civil lawsuit for personal injuries or an administrative hearing for a workers' compensation claim. A personal injury lawsuit is based on the theory that the defendant was negligent, meaning that he or she failed to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances. If, for example, the defendant is a shop owner, then reasonable care may include instituting reasonable safety precautions throughout the store and a failure to do so would make the defendant liable. A safety expert could be called upon to testify as to what reasonable safety precautions the shop owner should have undertaken.
Similarly, in a workers' compensation claim, an employer is always under an obligation to use appropriate safety measures. If an employee is injured and feels that the employer did not meet his or her legal burden regarding safety, then the employee should be entitled to workers' compensation coverage. If the employer is disputing the claim, then a safety expert could be needed to testify at a hearing.
The educational background required to become a safety expert witness will vary somewhat depending on the precise testimony intended to be elicited from the witness. As a rule, courts like any expert witness to have at least an undergraduate degree. A degree in construction safety, industrial safety, or any engineering degree may be helpful. In addition, certification as a fire fighter or emergency medical technician could be appropriate for anyone who aspires to become a safety expert witness.
Aside from the educational background of the witness, courts will generally want a potential safety expert witness to have an extensive background working in the field. In the United States, anyone with a background working for the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA), for example, would likely qualify as an expert safety witness. The court will ultimately make a decision on a case-by-case basis as to whether a potential witness may testify as an expert. Most judges will also want to hear testimony that the witness is considered an expert in the field by his or her peers before making a decision.