Besides the cold weather, the winter months are also typically drier. This drier weather often means that more people will experience static electric shocks. However, there is no need to panic because static elimination may be easier than you think. There are many steps that you can take to reduce or prevent static shocks, as well as many static control products available.

What is Static Electricity?

Simply put, static electricity is an electric charge that cannot move; it is the accumulation of charge on surfaces as a result of contact and friction with another surface. This contact or friction causes an accumulation of electrons on one surface, and a deficiency of electrons on the other surface.

Common Sources of Static Electricity in the Home and Workplace

Static electric fields occur naturally in the atmosphere, but are also found in our homes and at our workplaces. Some common sources of static electricity in the home and at the workplace include:

  • Your shoes and the type of fabrics that make up your furniture in your home and workplace. For example, shoes with rubber soles are good insulators. When combined with a wool or nylon carpet, they build up a lot of static in the body

  • Clothing such as wool sweaters, especially in the dry winter months

  • Dry winter air, which increases the frequency and severity of static shocks

  • Your skin (hands), especially if it is dry

  • Door knobs, such as those made of metal

  • Machines build up static electric charges, which then get transferred to our bodies through electrostatic induction

Hazards Associated with Static Electricity

The main hazard associated with static electricity is the creation of sparks, especially in explosive or flammable atmospheres. These sparks can set off an explosion or fire. However, for static electricity to be a hazard, four conditions must be present. These are:

  1. There must be a means for a static charge to develop

  2. There must be enough energy build up to cause ignition

  3. There must be a discharge of this energy, such as a spark

  4. The spark must occur in an ignitable vapor or dust mixture

Static Electricity in the Workplace

Static electricity causes two main workplace concerns:

  • The ignition of flammable materials or atmospheres, which can cause fires endangering employees

  • Harm to sensitive electronic components and equipment

Static Electricity and Effects on Health

In the few studies conducted investigating the effects of static electric fields on animals, no negative health effects have been observed since static electric fields do not enter the body. However, they cause an electric charge on the body surface, which can result in movement of body hairs and small electric shocks. Furthermore, studies conducted on workers investigating the health effects of static electricity due to exposure in the workplace, showed increased risks of various cancers. However, these results are not consistent across studies.

How Can Static Electricity Be Controlled?

  • Wear shoes with leather soles or cotton instead of wool socks

  • Avoid wearing clothing made of wool, opt for one made of cotton instead

  • Use furniture covers to cover your furnitures such as those made of natural fibers as synthetic ones accumulate more static charge

  • Use a humidifier to increase the humidity of the air in your home and workplace

  • Use an anti-static hand lotion or try your best to keep your hands moisturized

  • Place anti-static mats on the floors and work surfaces

  • Ground yourself before touching machinery and other sensitive equipment

Don't Be Shocked!

If you take the proper steps, you can reduce or prevent the build up static electric charges. Therefore, reducing or eliminating the ability of the sources of static electricity to build up charges can minimize your risk of getting shocked.