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London, Ont. building collapse survivor dedicates career to changing site safety

Dan O’Reilly
London, Ont. building collapse survivor dedicates career to changing site safety
JACOB HURL — Jacob Hurl is studying to become a project manager through online courses with George Brown College and has also given himself a mission to be a workers’ rights advocate.

It’s been a long and hard road for construction worker Jacob Hurl, who was trapped for four hours and narrowly escaped being killed in the wake of a partial building collapse in London, Ont. in December 2020.

Two of his co-workers at the construction site of an apartment building on Wonderland Road were killed.

They were Henry Harder, 26, who had a daughter who was only three weeks old at the time, and John Martens, 21.

Four others were injured, including Hurl who suffered severe injuries and was the last worker to be pulled out alive.

“Physically, I’m still recovering by going to the gym three to four days a week. Mentally, I’m still seeing a therapist once a week walking through that day,” says the 24-year-old.

At the same time, however, Hurl has embarked on a new career path to become a project manager through online courses with George Brown College and has also given himself a mission to be a workers’ rights advocate.

In the aftermath of the collapse, he spent several months considering what his options were and what he was going to do with his life.

“I thought about office jobs, I thought about construction. I thought about my fellow blue-collar workers and about my friends. Then I realized I can’t leave this (construction) industry without making the changes that are needed.”

He is referring to both the day-to-day operations on construction sites as well as how he believes injured workers are treated by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).

“As a project manager I know I don’t have a huge amount of power, but enough to make a small change,” says Hurl, who describes himself as a “natural leader.”

It is an ability he discovered in high school while playing sports, especially football, and he obtained a number of scholarships with an American university but decided not to take it.

Last September he enrolled in George Brown College’s one-year-long online project management program. Some of the courses, which include cost control, construction administration and estimating, are conducted at set times, while others require a considerable amount of reading which he can do on his own time.

His objective is to acquire five to seven years solid experience as a project manager, followed by a possible move to becoming a building inspector for a similar period and then attain a position as a Ministry of Labour inspector.

“Basically, my goal is to learn all these systems, study how they operate, and eliminate the bad from the good in the industry.”

By “bad” he means some of the unsafe working conditions he has witnessed and participated in, such as the time he spent constructing a catch basin without a trenchbox and with the use of a ladder with only eight rungs instead of 12.

The progression from injured construction worker to student has been made through WSIB’s Return-to-Work progress, which Hurl describes as a “little hidden gem” because it provided funding for his medical rehabilitation and studies.

The Lucan, Ont. resident maintains he has an obligation to stand up for injured workers and has commenced preliminary steps in creating a podcast to champion their rights.

But first, he is focused on completing his studies.

“I believe it’s going great and I’m enjoying the majority of the content in the course,” he says.

College instructor Bill Hawryschuk, who tutors Hurl with his estimating, planning and scheduling courses, concurs and says his student makes a strong effort to understand the course material.

“It’s an ongoing process where I evaluate where he is in a course, and where he needs to go, and then I fill the gaps with tutoring to help him move forward and to succeed.  I’m impressed that his goal is not just to pass, he wants to understand the concepts and processes in order to be as job-ready as possible for when he re-enters the workplace as a project co-ordinator or junior project manager.”

In the investigation that followed the building collapse eight charges were laid against iSpan Systems LP and East Elgin Concrete Forming Ltd. under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act. On Jan. 13 the matter was adjourned to March 3 to be spoken to, according to information provided by the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development.

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