The Malta Independent 4 August 2020, Tuesday

TMID Editorial: Mental health and the construction industry

Saturday, 4 July 2020, 08:56 Last update: about 1 month ago

Last Thursday, the courts heard how Miriam Pace was diagnosed with anxiety as a result of the construction work next door to her house. She never made it to her first therapy session: her house collapsed with her in it before that first session.

It is a point which only further drives home the tragedy which occurred last month – Pace’s daughter testified how her mother had been driven to wanting to sell her house when she heard of the potential construction next door, and how she had been prescribed medication before an appointment with a psychologist was suggested.

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Anxiety is not something which is inherently uncommon. It comes in various forms and intensities, and can be brought about by any form of stressful situation or scenario. Statistics put together in Malta’s Mental Health Strategy for the next decade show that 7.9% of people in Malta suffered from chronic anxiety at some point in their lives, with 6.2% reporting suffering in the 12 months prior to the survey.

There is no research into the causes of anxiety in Malta – so it is difficult to say for certain how many people there are around the country like Miriam Pace, suffering from anxiety brought about by the construction industry.

Given the scale that the construction boom in the country has reached, it wouldn’t be an untoward assumption to say that Pace was not alone in her suffering.

The construction industry has been the subject of much debate in recent years, but little of that debate has been centred on the mental effects that the construction industry has on the third parties who are directly affected by it.

After three collapses in as many months in 2019, a new set of regulations to preserve third party property adjacent to construction sites was implemented. The Hamrun collapse which claimed Pace’s life, led to another revision being drafted up.

However these regulations have always looked at the materialistic side of the matter – how people’s property can be protected from damage.  The new regulations which were promised after the Hamrun collapse should seek to change that, and, as well as making sure that third party property is fully protected through all the necessary precautions on the part of the construction site, include measures which delve into safeguarding the mental state of those living next to these sites.

Measures on noise reduction and dust pollution are but two examples of what can be done to help reduce construction-induced anxiety, while another example is providing the public with a reliable and efficient means of reporting illegalities – an entity which gives the necessary peace of mind to residents that if something is not right, they will delve into it and put a stop to it.

The need for such measures only become more real when one considers how Covid-19 has affected how we work and how our children learn. It is still unclear whether schooling as of next September will include some form of remote learning – but if it does, the effect of loud construction noises from next door will surely do no good to any child trying to keep up with their education remotely.

The English language makes a differentiation between a house and a home. A house is only a home if it provides a safe environment for its residents. If a person doesn’t feel safe – physically and mentally – inside their own home, then where else can they feel safe?

The new regulations for the construction industry should strive, as much as possible, to provide this safety.

 

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