Medicolegal death investigator workplace safety hazards: A scoping review of the literature

Stacy A. Drake, Caitlyn Thoene, Margaret Foster, Carolyn Porta, Adam W. Pickens

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


In the United States, medicolegal death investigation practices and policies pertaining to sudden unexpected deaths are mandated by state government. Practices vary across states, which contributes to inconsistency in job prerequisites and training. In preparation for a study focused on occupational safety and health of medicolegal death investigators in their on-scene and follow-up activities, a scoping review was conducted to document known occupational safety risks and health-related conditions associated with death investigation. Searches used Boolean and subject heading operators both broad and narrow in scope, and search terms included scene responder, hazard, investigator, forensic pathology, injury, and safety. Twenty-five articles met inclusion criteria, which included seventeen survey-mixed method designs, two systematic reviews, five quasi-experimental designs, and one case study. Twelve articles addressed mental health and eleven focused on risks associated with infectious disease. One article addressed the risk of chemical exposure from cyanide among autopsy personnel (including forensic pathologists) and nine included a wide range of employees within the setting of medical examiner or coroner offices. One article, addressing burnout, included employees in a forensic science laboratory setting as well as medicolegal death investigators and two articles included forensic pathologists and medicolegal death investigators. Only one article addressed medicolegal death investigators specifically. Articles addressing occupational and environmental hazards of medicolegal death investigators associated with musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, radiological, nuclear, electrical, or explosive threats were not identified. There is little published about safety risks inherent in conducting death investigations. Research is needed to adequately inform health promotion and injury prevention strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)44-55
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Forensic Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 American Academy of Forensic Sciences

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Review


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