ESD, or electronic static discharge, can be a big problem in the computer field. When proper precautions are taken though, risk is minimized. Let me start by saying that my elite computer friends consider me paranoid about static and generally do not take as much precaution as I do. However, when I’m dealing with a piece of equipment that I spend my hard earned cash on, you better believe I’m all about being safe.
Your body builds up static naturally. Unfortunately, static can be very damaging to computer components, especially things like RAM and processors. Static discharge isn’t that big of a problem in high-humidity areas (like south Louisiana) but precautions should still be taken. The number one rule is to never work on carpet! You should be somewhere with a nice, well lit table or desk to work on. My desk is wood, an acceptable substance for our purposes. When dealing with individual components, you may want to purchase an anti-static mat to place them on until ready for installation.
There are several anti-static wrist straps on the market, but I generally advise against these. The way they work is to provide a link between yourself and the case of the computer (or some other metal object). The problem here is if you touch the wrong thing, your body is a willing ground for any and all electricity. Personally, the best way I feel to “ground yourself” before working inside a PC is as follows.
With the computer plugged in to a grounded wall socket, touch the power supply inside the computer. Make sure you touch an unpainted metal part of the PSU, not a sticker, etc. Just a second or so is fine - this will allow any static built up in your body to drain off. Also, periodically when I am working on a PC I will touch an unpainted metal part of the case just to make sure that any static I have built up is released (like right before I go to pick up that memory module.
One more thing – when you are not installing that new computer piece, leave it in its anti-static bag! This will help keep dust off your new component, as well as protecting it from static discharges. And when you are done, be sure to save those anti-static bags!! Techs such as myself love these as they are great to store parts in.