Turning Down The Static

In industrial facilities, static electricity is much more than just a nuisance. It can damage all types of electronic devices, especially if it is powerful enough and impacts specific crucial components within a device.

Frequent “shocks” from static electricity in an office setting are very often considered just a nuisance. And, they can be even more common in an industrial environment because more electronic tools and equipment are used throughout the facility. 

However, in industrial facilities, static electricity is much more than just a nuisance. It can damage all types of electronic devices, especially if it is powerful enough and impacts specific crucial components within a device. Further, static electricity can actually make an office dirty, which is something many people do not realize. 

According to Allen Rathey, president of InstructionLink/JanTrain, Inc., a janitorial consulting firm, “30 pounds of dirt and accompanying bacteria are retained annually in every 100 square yards of carpet,” mainly because of the magnetism of static electricity in the carpet. 

This can also impact many other surfaces than just the carpet because, he says, “positively charged electricity will attract dust particles that are negatively charged, and vice versa. Static-prone nylon or other synthetic carpeting attracts oppositely-charged dust as well as attached bacteria, becoming a strong dust and bacteria magnet.”

Understanding static electricity can be a bit daunting, but we will try to make it easy. According to the University of Hawaii, “When two objects are rubbed together to create static electricity, one object gives up electrons and becomes more positively charged while the other material collects electrons and becomes more negatively charged.”  Materials that can lose or gain electrons in this way are called triboelectric. 

A common example of this, and how static electricity can occur in an office setting, is when someone “shuffles” or slides his or her feet while walking on a carpeted floor. This creates electrical charges within our bodies and because like charges repel each other, they migrate to our extremities, such as fingers or hair, in order to get away from each other. Then when we touch a light switch, an electronic device, or something on our desk, it provides a path for that charge to be released.

However, and quite fortunately, some of the steps that can prove very helpful in preventing static electricity can be very easy to incorporate in an industrial office setting, and the first one starts right where you are sitting. One of the best ways to help minimize or eliminate static electricity is to install chair mats under your chair.

Typically, chair mats are installed under chairs to help protect the surrounding carpet or floor underneath; but some chair mats also dispel static. This is not found with all chair mats and may be an option with others, but this is one of the easiest ways to help prevent static electricity, especially at a desk or sitting work station.

If selecting a chair mat with anti-static properties, select one with a studded surface if the mat is being placed over carpet. This will hold the carpet in place. Also, the thickness of the mat should correlate with the thickness of the carpet. If placed over a thick or “plush” type carpet, the chair mat should be thicker in order to ensure proper performance and protection. If placed over carpet tiles or a thinner carpet, often found in industrial settings, the chair mat can be thinner. As to a chair mat for a hard surface floor, a mat that is flat on both sides — has no studs — should work fine.

While these mats are perfect for people who sit at a desk, they are not the best option for people who must stand while working, which is very common at industrial warehouses. In such cases, a more effective option is the installation of anti-static mats that also have anti-fatigue properties. While the anti-fatigue properties will not necessarily prevent static electricity, they will help improve worker morale and, as the name implies, delay or prevent worker fatigue.

These types of anti-static mats typically come in rolls of about five feet long in different widths from about two to six feet. Anti-static mats without anti-fatigue properties are also available and typically come in rolls from about three to as much as 75 feet long.

A grounding cord, which is optional with some anti-static mats, should be connected to either type of mat and it is recommended for every 10 feet of anti-static matting. This is usually accomplished by plugging into the grounded line in an electrical outlet. An effective anti-static mat will have a static dissipative resistivity of about 109 ohms per square. Look for this information about the mat when making a selection. This should work well in most industrial workstations where workers are using computers and other electronic devices, testing stations, or laboratory equipment. 

Static electricity can occur just about anywhere and anytime in an office setting, from sitting at a desk or standing at a workstation to touching a restroom faucet. While the chair mats and anti-static mats discussed in this article will not necessarily help eliminate static charges in a restroom, they will help minimize or prevent them where they are needed most — the areas where workers actually perform their tasks.

Adam Strizzi is marketing manager for Crown Matting Technologies, one of the country’s oldest and largest mat manufacturers. He can be reached through his company website at www.crown-mats.com