Any time you touch an ESD sensitive component without properly grounding yourself, you run the risk of creating hardware problems where there were none before. From as little as making something sporadically malfunction without any rhyme or reason to it, all the way to completely "killing" a piece of hardware.

CPU's, motherboards, memory and PCI/PCI-e cards are the most vulnerable, but power supplies, optical drives, hard drives and anything else are still at risk. Grounding yourself is important to mitigate the risks outlined previously. It is also possible that if you send an electro static charge to a component in the computer while it is turned on, it could cause the power supply to short and in rare cases a fire could be created at the power supply or wall socket where the computer is plugged in.

Common Methods for Grounding Yourself

  1. Anti-static wrist straps – with this method you are grounded 100% of the time, it's not possible to discharge electro static energy to the computer because it is discharged through the metal contact point on the strap.
  2. Grounded ESD mats (for the work bench, not the floor) – ESD mats or flooring are only truly effective if those mats are grounded, this method should be used in conjunction with #1.
  3. Anti-static floor mats, simple rubber flooring is NOT ESD safe – better than carpet, but does not prevent static electricity from building up.
  4. "Discharging" yourself by touching a piece of metal or the case.

A key element commonly disregarded in ensuring you and your computer remain safe from ESD is humidity. Dry atmospheres lend themselves to allowing electro static energy to be accumulated, adding a humidifier to a room or production facility is extremely beneficial in ensuring ESD safety.