Electrostatic discharge (ESD) mats, whether used as tabletop or floor models, are essential for controlling the build up and discharge of electricity that could ruin expensive equipment, damage sensitive materials, or even trigger a fire or explosion in a sensitive environment. Yet even the best ESD mats are limited in how much protection they off when used alone. Combining ESD mats with secondary equipment designed to work in conjunction with it, such as specialty ESD control footwear, is the best choice in any setting where electricity absolutely must stay under control at all times.
ESD Control Requires Flow
While you may think of ESD control equipment as some kind of shielding, it's actually conductive rather than insulated. The conductivity of the mat carries electricity away from your body and prevents it from flowing into the equipment or materials you're working on. When there's an insulated material between you and the mat, such as your shoes or socks, you're actually trapping discharged electricity in your body or forcing it to flow into your work station or tools. Maintaining a clear flow between you, your ESD mats, and any straps you're using requires special ESD footwear since the feet are the body's natural ground for discharging excess energy.
Standard Shoes are Insulated
Most people working in industrial and technology manufacturing settings prefer rubber or foam soled shoes for the supportive cushion. Unfortunately, these materials are highly insulating when it comes to electrical flow. Crepe soles, the most common design for work shoes with anti-slip and anti-fatigue features, are also known for being insulating. Even leather soles are good at blocking electricity, which makes it a bad choice when you're working with an ESD mat.
Shoes marked as static discharge (SD) or ESD specialty shoes are designed with enough conductivity for discharging to the mat while also featuring dampening effects to prevent static energy from forming as you walk around your workplace. If your employees absolutely need to wear certain existing shoes, heel straps that run from the foot to the outside of the heel can create an alternative path for grounding that ensures safety without the need for new footwear.
Flooring Also Causes Problems
The materials used to floor your work area or manufacturing clean rooms can also generate static electricity and interfere with the natural grounding effect between the human body and the earth. Vinyl composition tile is easy to keep clean, but it creates static against some types of shoes and offers an insulating buffer. Using an ESD mat over it and sticking to non-static footwear when walking over the vinyl allows you to use it in a sensitive area without having to worry about potential shock hazards. ESD mats alone can't prevent footwear from generating static when rubbed against the right type of surface, but non-static footwear generates as little free energy as possible.
Footwear Comes in Many Types
Since ESD mats are used across so many different industries with secondary hazards like crushing risks and molten hot metals and other liquids, ESD specialty footwear comes in practically every form. You can find electrical footwear with reinforced toe cups without the weight of steel toes, slip-resistant soles that aren't insulated, and even full height boots for ankle support and burn protection. ESD socks are also available to make sure your feet stay cushioned and cool all day without the chance of a synthetic material acting as an insulating and blocking your connection to the ESD mat. In very sensitive or dangerous environments with explosive materials or potential loss of valuable data, the extra steps like ESD socks are worth the investment and the extra proection.