Upcoming Changes to the NIH Laboratory Design Requirement Manual (DRM)
We recently reported on the news from the Laboratory Design Conference held this past May in San Diego.
At the conference, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was out in force.
NIH’s Steven Breslin and Aaron Buchanan made an important continuing education presentation on the upcoming 2023 changes to the Design Requirements Manual (DRM) that governs the technical criteria and standards for NIH owned, leased, operated, or funded laboratories (making the DRM essential reading for lab managers and facility planners working in lab facilities with NIH-funded research projects).
According to Breslin and Buchanan, the new 2023 revisions to the DRM are designed to address these key areas:
- Bring the DRM up-to-date in regards to new industry developments, best practices, and “lessons learned.”
- Address and clarify the common challenges and misconceptions facing the laboratory design and construction community.
- Provide more useful guidance on design submission deliverable requirements and approval processes.
- Offer sample Programming Questionnaires designed to help architects and laboratory planners during the initial programming and design phases of new projects.
When Can We Expect the New 2023 Edition of the Design Requirements Manual to Be Published?
As you probably know, the current NIH Design Requirements Manual (DRM) was last published in 2016, with its latest major update dating back to 2020.
Since that time, there have been many changes in the world of laboratory design, including the rise of module laboratory furniture (as opposed to built-in casework), the increased importance of social spaces for collaboration, new demands for “dry” computer research labs supporting “wet lab” activities, and the recognition that flood risks have increased, putting laboratory facilities in harm’s way.
Breslin and Buchanan assure us the new 2023 revisions to the DRM are on the way. They plan to release them chapter-by-chapter on the NIH’s ORF Division of Technical Resources (DTR) website found at https://orf.od.nih.gov/TechnicalResources/Pages/default.aspx.
As they become available, the new chapters will be identified as Revision 2.0, with further revisions delineated as 2.1, 2.2, etc.
To get on the mailing list for DRM updates, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the single word “revisions” as the subject line.
Sneak Preview of Upcoming 2023 Changes to the DRM
At the Laboratory Design Conference held this past May in San Diego, Steven Breslin and Aaron Buchanan gave a sneak preview of some of the important upcoming changes to the DRM:
· Chapter 1: New Technical Definitions
It may seem like a small thing, but precise, crisp terminology helps improve the process of designing and approving complicated projects such as new laboratory installations and renovations. The new DRM will include updates to the definitions for BSL-4 airlocks, correct air flow in anterooms, and the role of the vestibule in environmental and access control. Other updated definitions include aseptic, commissioning, barrier facility, program of requirements, basis of design, and risk assessment.
The terminology BSL-3 projects has been streamlined, including consolidating certification and validation under “verification”. Also, the existing BSL3 Certification Checklist has been removed.
· Chapter 1: Increased Emphasis on Root Cause Analysis and Risk Assessment Requirements
The new 2023 DRM will take a more engineering systems approach, offering greater emphasis on risk assessment, systems failure, and disaster mitigation. It will also focus on failure correction and root cause analysis.
· Chapter 2: Refined Definition of Laboratory Modules
The existing DRM includes the concept of basic “laboratory modules,” which are typically 11’ deep sections with a passageway separating equipment workbenches and fume hoods on one side with desks and workstations on the other. The new updated 2023 DRM will expand the definition to specify a full 5’ wide walkway between workbenches in each “module” as well as how to measure and account for ‘back-to-back’ workbench layouts.
· Chapter 2: More Nuanced Laboratory Categorization
The new 2023 DRM clarifies the role of Primary laboratories (generally larger, multi-purpose/procedure/module labs) versus Support laboratories (e.g. smaller specialized labs nearby that provide support functions in service of the primary lab).
The new DRM also clarifies the definitions for wet and dry laboratories. The former handles liquid solutions, biological materials, and chemicals, typically with BSCs or chemical fume hood installations. Dry labs, on the other hand, focus on electronics, bioinformatics, and instrumentation and DO NOT require wet services or activities using chemicals or biological agents.,
· Chapter 2: Reasons to Add Collaborative Social Spaces in Laboratories
Social spaces promote spontaneous opportunities for planned and chance encounters that help encourage more collaboration. The new DRM outlines the important role these social spaces play in new laboratory installations and major remodeling projects.
· Chapter 2: Improved Flood Protection
Unfortunately, we have seen many instances where significant scientific research has been lost due to the increased risk of building flooding, including mechanical failures that caused power loss to sample freezers. The new DRM requires mechanical rooms to be designed to prevent leaks, including the addition of raised curbs and sleeves to prevent water intrusion. It also requires a moisture detection system to alert the presence of a leak or flood event.
· Chapter 2: Modular Alternatives to Traditional Casework in BSL-3 Laboratories, including Height Adjustable Worksurfaces
The DRM makes some major changes in the lab furniture design requirements for BSL-3 labs. The general thrust is to move away from traditional casework in BSL-3 labs to use modular lab furniture designs that can be moved to enhance flexibility and improve sanitation and decontamination. Wall or frame-mounted countertops and suspended base cabinets are still allowed, as are fixed installations that require utility connections at the wall, such as wet sinks. Height-adjustable work surfaces can be evaluated for increased flexibility and ergonomics.
· Chapter 2: Clarification of Flammable versus Corrosive Storage Requirements
The new DRM seeks to clarify the safety requirements for flammable versus corrosive storage. Flammable storage is not vented, while corrosive storage is vented, typically under fume hoods, and thus can only be stored in properly equipped wet labs.
· Chapter 4: New Requirements for Building Efficiency when Modifying Interior Surface of Exterior Walls
Energy conservation and sustainability are areas of increased concern in the new DRM. Any building renovation project that removes more than 100 square feet of the interior surface of an exterior wall needs to have insulation and vapor barriers installed to comply with federal building efficiency requirements.
· Chapter 4: Improved Access to Emergency Showers
The new 2023 DRM clarifies the design philosophy of laboratory door direction of swing – the doors should swing open to allow easy access to an emergency shower. Also, the doors should be recessed not to interfere with corridors. Special design considerations must be made for door swing directions in BLS-3, cGMP, APF, and other specialized lab designs.
· Chapter 4: Cement Board Sill Underlayment to Prevent Water Intrusion / Flood Damage
The new DRM calls out the need to protect the lower sections of walls and partitions from flood damage by requiring cementitious board wall base (aka cement backer board) be installed at the baseboard/sill level (3 ½ to 5 ½ in high).
· Chapter 4: High-Performance Coatings and Finishes
The new DRM requires that multi-component epoxy paint (and other high-performance coatings) be installed by a trained contractor approved by the manufacturer. Completed installations will need to be inspected by a NACE Coating Inspector (CIP) level 3 certified inspector.
· Chapter 6: Fume Hoods Connected to General Lab Exhaust if Precautions Are Taken
The new 2023 DRM offers new alternatives for using fume hoods. Previously, fume hoods had to be connected to dedicated exhaust systems. The new DRM outlines when fume hoods can be connected to general laboratory exhaust systems, including the stipulation for general exhaust redundancy, emergency power, chemical and usage review, corrosion-resistant ductwork, and testing for negative pressure throughout the ducting system (especially near exhaust fans).
· Chapter 6: Preventing Lab Air from Recirculating to Areas Outside of the Lab
The new 2023 DRM also clarifies the proper airflow design of lab HVAC systems and pressure relationships (negative in labs, chemical storage, kitchens, breakrooms, janitorial closets and positive in office, admin areas, and corridors).
The general principle is that laboratory air is NOT to be recirculated to areas outside the laboratory.
· Appendix A: Proper Placement of Biological Safety Cabinets (BSCs)
This appendix outlines the proper placement of biological safety cabinets (BSCs) within the laboratory layout, including keeping them out of the flow of traffic and not providing sufficient clearance between individual BSCs.
· Appendix E: New Requirements for Submitting Permits for Review
The new DRM adds additional requirements for proper permit submission. A revised Efficacy/Performance section now asks for information about constructability, coordination, maintainability, interdisciplinary quality review, and clash detection.
We’ll look at these last two items separately below.
· Appendix E: New Certification of Quality Review
The new 2023 DRM will require that all applicants engage an experienced professional interdisciplinary team to perform a quality review of all permit documents submitted to the NIH prior to review and that certification of this quality review must be signed off by a Principal or other licensed member of the Designer of Record.
· Appendix E: New Certification of Clash Resolution
The new DRM requires that project designs applications that have reached the 65% complete milestone affirm that a Building Information Modeling (BIM) clash detection assessment has been conducted to identify if any infeasible building conditions exist (e.g. a support column interfering with an emergency egress hallway, etc.) and that a certification of the resolution of any clash detection issues is signed off by a Principal or other licensed member of the Designer of Record.
· Appendix L: Updated Sealant Table and Review and Inspection Guide
The appendix covering sealants has been updated in the new 2023 DRM to add more sealant types, as well as application categories and sealant color restrictions. The revision also adds a new illustrated sealant joint design, review, and inspection guide.
· Appendix O: New Specialty Lab Definitions and Requirements
The new DRM will add requirements for Aquatic Facilities in addition to Insect and Electron Microscope Facilities.
· Appendix Q: Three Questionnaires for Different Lab Projects
The new DRM will include questionnaires for three different lab categories:
- Basic Lab (BSL-2) Questionnaire – Required for all laboratory projects
- Vivarium (ABSL-2) Questionnaire – Required for applicable projects
- High Containment (BSL-3, ABSL-3) Questionnaire – Required for applicable projects
These questionnaires will include a wide scope of topics, including:
- General Requirements
- Regulatory Requirements
- Proposed Project Site
- Functional Relationships
- Standard Operating Procedures
- Program Requirements
- Equipment Requirements
- Waste Management and Decontamination
- Security Requirements
- Facility Maintenance
In offering these sample Programming Questionnaires, the DRM is hoping to help architects and laboratory planners during the initial programming and design phases of new projects.
We’d like to thank the NIH’s Steven Breslin and Aaron Buchanan for providing these important preview updates to the 2023 Design Requirements Manual, and we look forward to receiving chapters of the officially approved versions as they become available.
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