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Telecommunications Tech Blog November 2013


The Heat is on... How do you Stop Static Shocks to Phones & Computers?
 

By Mike Sandman  •  mike@sandman.com
 

When the heat comes on in the fall, the air dries out inside.

That's when you start walking around building up an electrical charge in your body, which discharges as an electric shock when you touch or even get near something metal.

In the old days it was just painful. Today, we've got so much electronic stuff all around us that it can get painful in the wallet if something is blown up.

It's not just your finger touching the keyboard, dial or smart phone that will transfer the electricity. If you hold a handset from a phone to your face (even though the handset shell is plastic) there is a metal microphone and receiver right near your lip and ear.

Once the static charge is in your body from walking over to answer the phone, or even shuffling your feet under the desk, that electricity will build-up until it finds the closest ground. If the handset is up to your ear you could feel the shock that travels from your body out your ear or lip.

When the electricity travels down the coiled cord into the phone or system there's a good chance the phone will reset and you'll get cut-off. It could even damage the handset microphone, phone, or even the station card in the phone system.

There are three ways to stop the damage to electronic stuff:

1. Wear a grounding wrist strap at all times which will prevent the electric charge from building up in your body (probably not something you want to do?).

2. Humidify the air to the point where there are no more static charges being built-up in your body.

3. Use chemicals to reduce the amount of static electricity transferred from the flooring and chairs to the humans using them.
 

There is absolutely nothing you can do to telephone or computer equipment to prevent it  from getting the static charge that's built-up in your body. So the only sane solution is #2.

A lot of older offices had humidifiers installed in their heating system ducts. During the energy crisis in the 70s a lot of them were disconnected. Bad idea. Back then a humidifier was meant to make it more comfortable to work there. Now, it's critical to keep all the electronic gizmos working correctly.

The right thing to do is have the unit reconnected, or get a humidifier installed by the HVAC guy.

Or:

• Have a carpet company treat the carpets and chairs with anti-static stuff

• Treat the carpets and chairs with anti-static stuff yourself

• Buy Downy Fabric Softener (unscented) and a big plant sprayer with a comfortable trigger in the grocery store, fill the sprayer with a 50/50 mixture of Downy and water, and spray the heck out of the carpet, chairs and tile floors (watch out, this stuff is slippery for a while!). This does as good a job as commercial stuff and lasts about as long (you may need to do it twice per winter).
 

None of these things treat how uncomfortable it is for the people working in an un-humidified heated office.

You can buy a bunch of small humidifiers and put them all over the office, but most companies have tried that and gave up filling the stupid things pretty quickly.

It's true that some people build-up electricity in their bodies more or less than others. In some cases the electricity builds up to a higher charge before it's discharged into something. Those are the people who feel the most pain from static. No fix for them except living in Houston.

It's also true that some shoe sole materials can transfer the electricity into the wearer's body faster than others. Trying different kinds of shoes is an easy fix for that.

Some people just have to be really careful. I was sent on a service call at an insurance company where the console kept resetting by itself. When I got there the operator told me that it hasn't happened to her, but the girl she relieved just went home. She got a shock from the braces on her teeth to the handset when she answered the phone, and her mouth started bleeding. Woa.

Pretty obvious why the console kept resetting. The other lady answering the phones had no problem. I don't know if the girl with the braces ever returned to work there?

I know they never put a humidifier in. There is absolutely no end to the service calls in a place like that (until they humidify the place or buy a phone system from someone else).
 


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