Just as he did hundreds of times before, he sat down at his desk and reached for the mouse. This time, however, instead of taking the computer out of its sleep mode, a snap of static current was discharged between his finger and the mouse. Just that fast, the computer powered down because the motherboard was now fried. Thank you static electricity.

About once a year, always during the winter months, I’ll send an email company-wide that goes something like this:

The dry winter season has been historically bad for static electricity in our office. Over the years, with a mere touch, we’ve lost mice and keyboards, and even power supplies and motherboards. It’s even possible for static electricity to affect printers, plotters, fax machines, and so on. Years ago, we even lost one of our network switches when static electricity actually traveled through a network cable. Like lightning, there’s no telling where or how far a static charge might travel. With one quick zap, a piece of electronic equipment could become damaged beyond repair.

I’ve gotten into the habit of actually running my hand along the metal door frame of an office, or grounding myself on the metal stud in the wall at the entrance to a cubicle (yes, through the drywall). Whichever method you choose to ground yourself, please keep in mind that it’s an important thing to do. Not only could a static charge destroy equipment, but computer down-time for repairs is something nobody likes – and it’s especially bad for your project deadline and bottom-line.

Yes, it does happen.

After that incident that destroyed one of our switches, I actually purchased a bunch of Ethernet surge protectors and installed them on all the computers. For a very small cost, it was one more level of protection against an accidental static charge that might travel though a network cable.

This may not be as much an issue in humid climates, but it sure is in dry ones like mine. Moreover, not all workplaces have humidifiers integrated into their heating and cooling systems.

As IT professionals, we’re often reminded to ground ourselves before touching sensitive electronic equipment. Why shouldn’t that same warning be passed on to our users from time to time?

Just a little food for thought during these dry winter months.