October 1, 2017 - On July 17, Todd M. Ruff, MS, PE, became the new Director of the Spokane Mining Research Division (SMRD) of the NIOSH Mining Program. Of his appointment as director, he said, “Becoming SMRD director is an exciting opportunity and I am honored to serve in this new role. I am looking forward to guiding the future direction of this division to best serve our stakeholders, with a focus on western mining health and safety challenges.”
In his role as SMRD Director, Mr. Ruff’s priorities are to “continue the important work that was started last year in building a Miner Health Program to better understand and mitigate chronic disease in the mine worker population.” He sees partnerships as being critical to this effort and will be reaching out to the stakeholders across the country who will have a significant role in the future of this effort. He also notes that he wants to “focus on emerging issues in mining, including autonomous vehicles, new mining methods, and other advances in technology that have safety implications that need to be understood.”
Among many challenges in miner safety and health research, Mr. Ruff wants to “continue to advance our ground control and monitoring research for underground metal/nonmetal mines and western underground coal, which can experience unique challenges as mines go deeper and new mining methods are introduced.” His goals as director include “strengthening our partnerships with western mines, increasing our outreach to public health and mining schools to ensure new scientists and engineers are available to work on mining health and safety challenges that continue to evolve, understanding the unique challenges of stone, sand, and gravel mine operators, and increasing our research efforts in machine safety improvements to deal with the persistent leading cause of fatalities in metal/nonmetal mining.”
Mr. Ruff accepted the directorship of SMRD after serving for many years in the government and for several years in the private sector, bringing with him a wealth of experience in safety and health research and marketing. A native of Spokane, Washington, after high school Mr. Ruff attended Gonzaga University in Spokane, pursuing a degree in electrical engineering. While attending Gonzaga, he was hired as a student intern in 1987 by Spokane’s office of the U.S. Bureau of Mines (USBM). Mr. Ruff credits his decision to work in the mining field to the exposure he received to the world of mining technology through this student internship. “I have a passion for technology and how it can improve people’s lives,” Mr. Ruff notes. “When the opportunity came to do research and apply technology to miner health and safety, it was a perfect fit.”
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1988, Mr. Ruff was hired by the USBM Spokane Research Center as an engineer and worked on automation technology for narrow-stope mining machines. While working full-time at the Bureau of Mines, he continued his schooling at Gonzaga and in 1993 completed a master’s degree in electrical engineering. As the USBM transitioned to NIOSH in 1995, Mr. Ruff stayed with the Spokane Research Center and began research projects pertaining to machine safety. This work included the development and testing of collision warning systems for mining and construction equipment; he also worked on a team to improve deck winch safety on commercial fishing vessels. In 2009, he became the acting Deputy Branch Chief for the Electrical and Mechanical Systems Safety Branch within the NIOSH Mining Program in Spokane, WA, and Pittsburgh, PA.
In addition to his work in government mine worker safety and health, Mr. Ruff also brings a wealth of experience from the private sector. In 2011, looking to expand his knowledge and experience in mining technology, he left government service to work for a startup called SAFEmine Technology that was developing collision avoidance systems for surface mining equipment.
After SAFEmine was purchased by the Hexagon Mining group, he was offered a position as Product Manager for safety systems display and networking technologies, based in Tucson, Arizona. In this position, he travelled throughout the United States and Canada, working in a project management capacity and meeting with customers who had safety technology needs, thereby expanding his knowledge of technology solutions. He feels that working for SAFEmine and the safety division of Hexagon Mining was an important chapter in his career because he learned about industry needs at many different mines—in particular when introducing new methods and technology—and gained experience in both the economic and human factors sides of bringing new safety technology to market. With the establishment of the new NIOSH Spokane Mining Research Division in 2015 and the ongoing development of the leadership team, he accepted an offer to become the Acting Associate Director of Science and returned to NIOSH in August 2016.
Mr. Ruff says his underlying motivation throughout his career in mining is to “serve the American people, ensuring that the resources they have entrusted to us are effectively used to improve workplace safety and health.”
Mr. Ruff has been married to his wife, Laura, for 21 years and they have five children. His oldest son, Aaron, is married with a 1-year-old daughter, and his four other children are still at home—Ella, 13, Dawson, 10, and twins, Mitch and Charlie, both 8. The family loves everything outdoors—hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, skiing—and they spend their weekends and many vacations in the mountains of northeastern Washington and northern Idaho enjoying outdoor pursuits.
Mr. Ruff has authored 48 publications, including peer-reviewed journal articles, national and international conference proceedings, trade journal articles, NIOSH numbered documents, and book chapters. He holds two patents and is a licensed engineer in Washington State. He is a member of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration (SME) and has served previously as Chair of a Health and Safety Technology session. In 1999, he won the U.S. Public Health Service Engineer of the Year Award, and in 2010 he won a Bullard-Sherwood Research-to-Practice (R2P) Award.