Although electrostatic discharge (ESD) can be lots of fun for terrorizing your office mates or your cat, ESD is nothing to play around with when working on expensive electronic equipment. It only takes a small electric charge to damage the sensitive components in most computers, and the conscientious tech should always take steps to avoid ESD. For one support pro, this means even opposing his company’s new uniforms. Here’s why.

Form over function
The management at Samcorp73‘s retail company recently instructed all employees to wear new uniforms that include a nylon vest. According to management, “It will provide a consistent appearance and increase our brand recognition,” Samcorp73 wrote. And while this is true, Samcorp73 doesn’t believe this new policy should supersede electronic safety.

“It is my contention that nylon causes static discharge. All of our workstations are grounded, but why increase the risk?” Samcorp73 wrote. Unfortunately, Samcorp73’s managers don’t believe this claim: “I think that they just think we don’t want to wear the uniforms.”

So it was off to our Technical Q&A for Samcorp73, who asked whether any other members could confirm the ESD risks from wearing nylon or if anyone would provide him with some resources to back up the claim.

The shocking truth
Fellow TechRepublic member TheChas was quick to respond. “Yes, nylon is both an ESD generator and charge storer.” TheChas recommended Samcorp73 purchase an inexpensive ESD field meter, or have a representative from an ESD supply firm come in to show management just how much ESD is caused by wearing the uniforms.

“Unfortunately, most of the ESD garments are made of nylon, but they have special conductive threads added to them,” TheChas continued. “An ESD garment that has worn out is actually one of the worst garments to wear, as it no longer dissipates any charge.”

TheChas also directed Samcorp73 to several Web sites dedicated to ESD and ESD prevention:

Do you have any additional information you’d like to share with Samcorp73? If so, click here to post your reply.

More tips for preventing ESD
The voltage of the static electricity stored in your body is many times higher than what is considered harmful to electronic components. To prevent yourself from transferring static electricity from your skin to electrical components, you should do the following:

  • Use a grounding mat on your workbench.
  • Wear a grounding strap when you can—the exception being if you are working on a monitor or the inner workings of power supply where the grounding strap could be a lightning rod for discharges from the powerful capacitors present in both devices.
  • If you don’t have a grounding strap handy, leave the equipment off, but plugged in, and touch the computer chassis frequently.
  • Don’t touch equipment if either you or it has just come from a cold, low-humidity environment.
  • Leave component cards in their static-free bags until you need them and then handle them only by their edges, avoiding the contacts.

To learn more about working safely on computer components, check out this article from Mike Walton and the discussion that accompanies it.

Share your shocking experiences

Have you ever fallen victim to ESD? What steps do you take to prevent ESD in your workspace? How difficult is it for clients to prove ESD damage to their computer components? Post a comment to this article and share your ESD experiences or visit TechRepublic’s Technical Q&A.